Emails obtained by NBC5 News detail a series of complaints of bed bugs, rats, and other safety hazards within OnTrack facilities.
Former employees who don’t want to be identified, say they saw some of the issues first hand.
“They had mold that would just be painted over,” one said.
“They [rats] were trying to come up through the vents, and then we saw rat droppings everywhere,” another said.
The emails date back to June of this year with clients being moved into hotels after complaining of being bitten by bugs, something that didn’t sit well with Jackson County Judge Patricia Crain.
In emails to child welfare staff, Judge Crain expressed concern over their handling of a bug issue on Holly Street saying the move to hotels was unnecessary, a waste of taxpayer dollars, and was the opposite of trauma informed care.
She writes, “you have now taught them that all they have to do is complain loudly and they will get what they want. In this case, a cushy stay in a hotel, which by the way, probably has in-room bars, and certainly a regular bar.”
We reached out to Judge Crain about that statement. She said she thinks complaints like that do happen but, says “I wasn’t saying it was going to happen with them.”
“You have to be careful that we don’t put them in more danger,” Judge Crain continues, “by continuing to move them, by placing them in motel rooms where they have access to refrigerators with alcohol in them.”
OnTrack officials declined an interview, and we’ve yet to receive all of the pest control reports, but they did provide a follow up inspection from August which showed “no signs of activity”.
And Judge Crain says to her knowledge, they were never there.
“I saw the exterminators reports, and they [bed bugs] were not, they were not there,” Judge Crain says.
However, DHS officials say despite OnTrack not being convinced they were bed bugs, that is what the building was treated for per exterminators protocol, and that “the issues were not easily resolved and the company had to come back multiple times”.
According to emails, doctors notes said they were bed bug bites, but according to Dr. Kerri Hecox the one and only bug that was sent to an entomologist was not a positive match for a bed bug. However, complaints of bites did continue.
The correspondence also details an incident of a baby getting second degree burns on both hands because of an unprotected heating system at the agency’s crisis housing. That was three weeks ago. Based on the email conversations, OnTrack did alert maintenance and have safety gates put in place.
As of this month other issues have continued. Emails discuss families being moved to hotels once more, because of flooding that caused a loss of power and heat, and that quote “many of those living there are sick.”
And another family disclosed having problems with rats, and that, “most likely an exterminator will need to come, as thus far, maintenance hasn’t been able to eliminate the rats.”
And while Judge Crain says she has no knowledge of the most recent issues, she did want to highlight the value of the work OnTrack is doing for families.
“Child Welfare has always been satisfied to place children and families in OnTrack housing because it’s the best way to keep children with their families, ” Judge Crain says, “and it’s one of those things I’m very proud of, is my involvement and this partnership it’s been so successful and it’s unfortunate that there’s people that want to tear it down.”
NBC5 News has learned that another issue of bed bugs popped up this month at a different OnTrack building, and according to CASA of Jackson County, a court appointed special advocate took bed bugs home with them. We’re told since that complaint, CASA’s have been advised to not enter any OnTrack facilities, until they’ve been given the all clear.
Just before our 6 o’clock newscast, OnTrack staff got back to us to say that all of the exterminations have been done, guards have been put up around the heaters that were a safety hazard, and the rats are being handled by internal maintenance.
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