|By Cornelia de Bruin, The Daily Times,
Farmington, N.M.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News
September 30, 2008 --FARMINGTON -- A rash of complaints about bedbug bites at a local lodging establishment focuses attention on the lack of regulation in place to deal with the problem.
Bedbugs, which measure from three-sixteenths to five-sixteenths of an inch in length, began making a comeback across the nation about two years ago.
Robert Vasquez and two co-workers stayed at Days Inn from Sept. 21-26 while they attended a training session related to their jobs.
Their stay left them with bites, welts, memories of bad treatment and accusations of lying from the hotel's management.
Vasquez, Jerome Sanchez and Cynnamon Jones work for the Santa Fe Police Department and traveled to Farmington for training offered by the Farmington Police Department. Vasquez and Sanchez are detectives. Jones is a crime scene investigator.
The trio's calls to myriad agencies uncovered the fact that no regulations specifically addressing bedbug incidents are in place statewide.
"Mr. Vasquez called Donna Talley last Friday and was upset that the Better Business
Bureau couldn't do anything about it," said Joyce Donald, who works with Talley at Better Business Bureau Four Corners. "Donna referred him to the Convention and Visitors Bureau."
Donald also called city of Farmington offices, only to be told no state agency regulates lodging establishment cleanliness complaints. Debbie Dusenbery, executive director of Farmington's Convention and Visitors Bureau, furnished The Daily Times with a copy of the complaint Vasquez filed with her Information specialist, Ingrid Gilbert.
"After their first night in the hotel they noticed bug bites all over their bodies,' " Gilbert's report stated. "They were told by a Days Inn employee that it was not the hotel's problem."
Jones reported to the hotel's front desk she saw small drops of blood on her sheets Sept. 21.
"She was told it was her problem' by Day's Inn staff," Gilbert's report stated.
Vasquez, Sanchez and Jones also produced a live bug they caught in one of the rooms, giving it to the front desk clerk, who Vasquez described as "a young guy."
"He wadded it up in a piece of paper and threw it in the trash," he said.
Hotel Manager Amish Patel said his wife, Nimisha, described seeing "a dead bug," and told him it was not a bedbug, but after The Daily Times asked him about the conversation and he queried his wife.
"We moved them to a different room and they were happy," Patel said.
He recalled one other bedbug incident, which he said happened in 2006.
Information from State Sen. William E. Sharer, R-San Juan, disputes Patel's recollection, however.
"During the summer of 2007, I was informed of a bedbug infestation occurring at the Days Inn in Farmington," Sharer wrote to Albert Vigil, secretary of New Mexico Department of Health, on Feb. 5. "Unfortunately, a second incident has recently occurred at the same motel.
Sharer expressed frustration that "no governmental agency has clear authority to regulate this issue because there are presently no enforceable standards."
New manager to come
Days Inn owner Rez Chowdhury of Amnas Hospitality said the Patels already were given notice before Vasquez complained, and must leave their jobs by Nov. 10.
"They are forcefully leaving the hotel because of a number of incidents," Chowdhury said. "They're careless."
He referred to complaints of price gouging lodged against Days Inn during the National High School Finals Rodeo earlier this year.
Chowdhury plans to give Vasquez, Sanchez and Jones a refund of their money, and a credit for any Days Inn in the country.
But Vasquez said that's not what he wants.
"Word needs to get out about this place. We were the sixth people to complain in the past three months," he said. "Their consumer service was terrible, and she (Nimisha) called us a liar."
Vasquez' complaints highlight the lack of a centralized policy regarding bedbug bites at lodging establishments. The Better Business Bureau and Convention and Visitors Bureau took reports, and Vasquez is working with Dusenbery.
McDonald of the Better Business Bureau also is frustrated.
"Our city is aware and very cognizant of the lack of regulation in place," she said. "When I called City Hall to find out where to refer them, nothing was available ... it's frustrating."
New Mexico Environment Department's Farmington Field Office refers bedbug complaints to New Mexico Department of Health's Infections Epidemiology Bureau in Santa Fe. The office is not involved in regulating lodging establishments at which biting incidents occur.
"They don't fall into the purview of the department because bedbugs don't transmit disease," said New Mexico State epidemiologist Mack Sewell. "The industry might want to be more proactive for the sake of its image."
The department periodically reviews its own policies, Sewell said.
"We're always going to look at changes we can make in the light of changing times," he said.
Fighting the insects
The department has issued guidelines on how to deal with bedbugs. Its recommendations include steam cleaning mattresses, using bug bombs and dealing with local pest control companies for monthly pest control.
Unless a lodging facility is a member of New Mexico's Lodging Association, the organization's hands are tied regarding intervening on behalf of bedbug-bitten patrons.
"The best way to deal with a biting incident is to tell the front desk to move you, then quarantine and fumigate the room and rooms that are proximate to it," said Lodging Association President Art Bouffard. "We will work with managers and consumers to work something out, but only if the business is a member."
Days Inn does not belong to either the Lodging Association or Farmington's Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Cornelia de Bruin: firstname.lastname@example.org
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