Tourism Authority warns of bed bugs at local motel

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
The Rowan County Tourism Development Authority is warning people to stay away from the Travelodge of Salisbury after an Ohio couple was nearly “eaten alive” by bedbugs.
A Travelodge employee said by e-mail Tuesday the motel has no bedbugs and does not appreciate the Visitors Center (Tourism Authority) sending out the warning.
The Tourism Authority sent out an e-mail Tuesday to board members and others advising them not to send anyone to Travelodge because of bedbugs.
An Ohio couple stayed at the motel (formerly the Ramada Inn) at 1328 Jake Alexander Boulevard S. on July 15. Jason Dotsm called Salisbury Police around 7:30 a.m. when the hotel management refused to do anything about the situation.
A police report indicates Dotsm and his wife had complained to management about bedbugs around 4 a.m., but with no success.
Officer Annice Chunn advised the couple that their complaint was a health issue and referred them to the Rowan County Health Department.
Lesley Pullium, operations director for the Tourism Authority, said the couple had come to Salisbury to help their son get settled. He had just been hired by the Rowan-Salisbury School System to teach at Mount Ulla Elementary School.
The couple, described as being in their mid-60s, returned to Rowan County this week and went to the Visitors Center, where they described their ordeal.
Pullium said the woman had bites down her neck and on both arms and legs. “I’ve never seen anybody with bites like that,” she said.
The couple said they had gone to their doctor when they returned to Ohio.
The Dotsms and the Tourism Authority reported the suspected bedbug issue to the Health Department.
Health Director Leonard Wood said Tuesday an inspector visited Travelodge on Monday and checked out Room 201, where the couple stayed last week.
“We did not find any bedbugs,” Wood said, adding that hotel officials had removed all the furniture and fumigated the room.
The Health Department inspects hotels once a year, doing a random inspection of rooms and other facilities. Hotels are graded on a system similar to restaurants, with 100 being the best and anything below 70 cause for a shutdown.
Wood said Travelodge garnered a mid-90s score in its inspection earlier this year.
If bedbugs were found, the score would drop by four points, Wood said.
On Monday, the inspector checked the one room involved in the complaint but no other room.
Wood said this is the first complaint of bedbugs the department has received in his 10-year tenure.
A woman who identified herself as a manager at Travelodge, but refused to give her name, said the hotel fumigated the room as a precaution.
“We didn’t have bedbugs. It’s their word against ours … We don’t need any publicity,” she said by telephone.
A short time later, Terri Clifton, identified as a Travelodge manager, sent an e-mail to the Tourism Authority, the Post and others saying the “couple threatened us wanting a refund … so they were given a full refund for their night’s stay. The said they were bitten by bugs … we have never had any problems.”
The Clifton e-mail continued: “We are very appalled at the city of Salisbury acting out against one of their own. … You trust out-of-state people to tell you one good story and you’re trying to drag us down.”
The Tourism Authority is a county operation.
Bedbugs are small, wingless insects that feed solely on the blood of warm-blooded animals. The bugs seek out people or animals, generally at night when their hosts are asleep, and painlessly sip a few drops of blood, according to the Harvard School of Public Health Web site.
According to the Web site, hatchling bedbugs are about the size of a poppy seed, and adults are about 1/4 of an inch in length. From above, they are oval in shape but are flattened from top to bottom.
Bedbugs lay eggs and make their homes in small crevices and furniture, according to the Web site. They can live for months without food and can move between walls.