A brewing controversy over the management of a series of bedbug infestations in a medical student dorm has forced the Yale School of Medicine to relocate dozens of visitors scheduled to arrive on campus this Thursday for an admitted-students event.
Around 30 admitted students were slated to spend the medical school’s Second Look Weekend, a three-day charm offensive designed to showcase the University’s appeal, in an on-campus housing facility that has suffered numerous bedbug infestations since October. The Medical Student Council met last week with administrators to ask that students be relocated to a nearby hotel after a new infestation was discovered Thursday on the eighth floor of Harkness Hall, a 172-bedroom complex located on Cedar Street directly across from Yale-New Haven Hospital. And in a Monday night email to the residents of Harkness Hall, MSC President Carrie Flynn MED ’23 confirmed that the students would stay at a local hotel at the expense of the medical school.
“Given the developing nature of this situation, we have decided that it is best to provide our accepted students with lodging in a hotel rather than Harkness,” Flynn wrote in the email.
She added in the email that the MSC plans to meet with Yale Housing and the Office of Facilities to iron out a more effective strategy for dealing with future bedbug infestations.
The infestation reported last week — the sixth since October — prompted the MSC to meet on Friday with the medical school’s Director of Admissions Richard Silverman and Admissions Administrative Assistant Barbara Watts to make the case for moving the visitors to a hotel. According to one MSC representative, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the topic, Silverman and Watts initially decided it would be safe to house the visiting students in Harkness, after receiving assurances from the building’s facilities superintendent, Robert Young, that the infestation was under control. Young declined to comment for this article.
But on Monday night, the admissions officers seemed to change their minds. The timing of the announcement coincided with the discovery of live bedbugs in the newly infested eighth-floor room during a follow-up inspection conducted on Monday.
“Although a careful examination of the room did not turn up any bugs, the exterminator decided to go a step further, and broke apart a plywood board that was under the mattress,” wrote Director of Graduate and Professional Student Housing George Longyear in a private email to a Harkness resident obtained by the News. “Inside the plywood board, bedbugs were found.”
In the same email, Longyear apologized for the stress the bedbug infestations have created for building residents and promised to do “everything possible to fix this situation.” Longyear did not respond to a phone call requesting comment on Monday.
The decision to relocate the visiting students to a hotel also came less than a day after News reporters contacted the medical school’s admissions department with questions about the admitted students slated to sleep in Harkness Hall.
“Admissions seemed to vacillate back and forth between taking Facilities’ word that everything was under control, versus our concerns that it isn’t,” said Kayla Isaacs MED ’19, a building resident who has closely followed the bedbug issue. “I don’t know if the impending Yale Daily News article was ultimately the reason they made this decision, but it certainly provided the situation with an extra tinge of urgency. It raised the stakes.”
Silverman and Watts did not return numerous emails and phone calls requesting comment.
Isaacs added that it would have been a public-relations “disaster” for the University to house admitted medical students in a building with a history of bedbug infestations.
“It makes no sense to take even a slight chance of having an admitted student bring bedbugs home from Yale’s Second Look,” Isaacs said. “Or to have admitted students discussing on [the online forum] Student Doctor Network the administration’s failure to protect them from unwittingly staying in a building with an ongoing bedbug problem that Admissions knew about.”
According to Harkness residents, the housing and facilities administrators’ inadequate response to previous bedbug infestations in the building raised significant doubts over whether the problem had been sufficiently contained. One resident, who said her room on the eighth floor became infested in October, complained that administrators have done a poor job communicating with residents about best practices for catching infestations.
The resident, who asked to remain anonymous because of the stigma attached to bedbugs, added that many students living in Harkness Hall feel the housing and facilities team has handled the problem with “mismanagement or even negligence.”
The resident described an incident in February in which administrators allowed a student whose room was infested to move to a different floor along with all her possessions, many of which were teeming with bedbugs. The decision to transport the belongings, which the resident described as “gross incompetence,” caused a new infestation on a different floor of the building. The student, who declined to comment on the broader bedbug issue, confirmed that her belongings carried the bedbugs to a previously uninfested floor.
“I believe Facilities is trying, but everything I’ve observed over the past few months suggests to me that they are in over their head,” the resident said. “We have been told multiple times that the problem has been resolved, only to have reports of a new room that has been affected. As far as I am concerned, if the problem is spreading, it is not under control.”
The first bedbug infestation in Harkness Hall was discovered on the eighth floor in early October. Two other rooms in the same hallway reported infestations a few days later, and a fourth was discovered in February. The fifth eighth-floor infestation was reported late last week in a different part of the same hallway that housed the first four infestations.
None of the visiting admitted students were slated to sleep on either the eighth or 10th floor of Harkness Hall. But the prospect of housing admitted students in any part of a building infested by bedbugs was apparently enough to convince the admissions office to move the visiting students.
It can be tremendously difficult to exterminate bedbugs, parasitic insects that feed on human blood and whose bites produce uncomfortable rashes. The insects, which reproduce quickly and can easily spread to adjacent rooms, thrive in bedspreads, clothing and the tiny nooks and crannies between floor and wall.
CT Pest, the pest-control company paid by the University to exterminate the bedbugs, used a heating treatment to combat the first round of infestations in October, in line with official University protocol. But the company switched to a different method to eliminate the later infestations, using the nontoxic silica dust pesticide to clear each room. Longyear confirmed in a March 2 email to a building resident that the Office of Facilities had revised its bedbug protocol after meeting with a prominent insect expert who recommended the silica dust approach.
Longyear told the same resident in an Oct. 15 email that bedbug outbreaks are generally “few and far between” at Yale.