Amy Van Blaricum knows bed bugs when she sees them.
Eight years ago, her Uptown apartment was overrun. Their bites itched and swelled. She would feel them crawl over her skin and find their bodies on the floor. It took hundreds of dollars worth of pest control to get the infestation under wraps.
The 37-year-old didn’t see another bed bug until Wednesday, when she went to the Hennepin County Medical Center’s 701 Park Ave. emergency room to get some x-rays after slipping on the ice and mangling her back. Five minutes into her stay, Van Blaricum says, two bed bugs crawled onto her from the hospital bed.
She swept them off and called a nurse, who jarred one of the bugs for testing. It was a verified bed bug.
But hospital staff immediately tried to blame Van Blaricum for the infestation, she says. They entered her room wearing hazmat suits, accusing her of bringing them into HCMC. They told her to shower in a decontamination room stocked with bins of bed bug safety equipment, and put her clothes in a bag to take home. A bug sniffing dog scouted every room she entered.
Van Blaricum says she refused to go home with freshly infested clothes. She explained that she hadn’t seen any sign of bed bugs in her apartment — no bites, no eggs, no feces — and that it was likely the hospital that had an outbreak.
They said, ‘You can’t prove that,’” Van Blaricum recalls. “Every step of the way they seemed to repeat talking points, like they’d all been trained to never admit there’s an outbreak, to deny all responsibility. They wouldn’t even admit it could have been me, or it could have been them.”
Christine Hill, HCMC spokeswoman, denied the medical center has ever had an infestation.
HCMC contracts with a pest control company that responds to every positive identification of a bed bug. Most of the time, the inspection finds no further evidence of bed bugs other than the bug that prompted the call to the company, Hill says.
“It was messed up,” Van Blaricum says. “Before I left, I said, ‘I haven’t seen any signs of bugs at my home or on me, but five minutes on your hospital bed and they’re all over me.’ People should know if they go there they can get bed bugs, which can be something difficult for sick or disabled people to combat once taken home.”