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Haley VA: Dead rats show pest control working

TAMPA — The dead rats falling from the kitchen ceiling of one of the nation's busiest veterans hospitals show the facility's pest control efforts are working.

That is what officials at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center said Monday in the wake of a Tampa Bay Times report that revealed the hospital is battling a severe infestation of rats and cockroaches.

Haley spokeswoman Karen Collins provided some detail about the hospital's "vermin control" efforts that include rat traps placed on ceiling tiles in a kitchen that prepares food for hospitalized veterans and a canteen kitchen that serves veterans, staff and visitors.

"It's important to remember that the rodents found deceased means our efforts are working," Collins said in an email statement to the Times.

"Patients should be confident in our efforts to ensure their health and safety. We remain diligent in our pest control efforts."

Somebody sent Haley's infection control chief Thursday color photos showing three dead rats that fell from the ceiling of the hospital's main kitchen, according to internal Haley emails obtained by the Times. A dead mouse also was found.

"I have … been made aware that there is a major roach problem in the kitchen and that some roaches have been found on patients' trays," the infection control director, Miriam Ruisz, wrote in an email Thursday to the Haley "enviro team," which handles pest control at the hospital.

Ruisz said she was told workers replacing a canteen kitchen ceiling two months ago "filled multiple buckets with roaches, dead rats and feces."

Collins said the rats were discovered by workers who were installing a new fire suppression system in the main, first-floor kitchen of the Department of Veterans Affairs hospital.

Haley then hired Visions Inc. on June 10 to provide pest control services at the hospital's kitchen areas, Collins said.

VA documents show that Visions — a Brooklyn Park, Minn., company — won a $36,500 contract to provide pest control services over the next year. The contract has options for an additional four years.

Visions describes itself on a company website as the "largest, certified Native American-owned combination advertising agency and printing company in the United States."

Its website does not say anything about the company offering pest control services either in Minnesota or Florida.

Visions officials could not be reached to comment. Collins did not respond when asked about the company's pest control expertise.

Collins said Haley has both in-house and contracted pest control programs with employees who are licensed and certified "pest prevention professionals."

Collins said the contractor uses chemicals and "live catch vermin control" methods in the kitchen areas.

The contractor, she said, handles situations beyond the expertise of VA workers and will inspect kitchen areas at least weekly "for continued vigilance."

Contact William R. Levesque at levesque@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3432.

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