After a flea infestation in one of its Hanover offices, the State Highway Administration erroneously told employees to open their homes to mandatory inspection.
A supervisor with the Office of Traffic and Safety sent an email, a portion of which was obtained by The Capital, to about 20 employees affected by the fleas. It indicated they should submit to home inspections to help identify the source of the flea problem.
“I acknowledge that this home inspection requirement may be inconvenient and upsetting for some of us, but please let’s focus on trying to eliminate these fleas once and for all,” the supervisor wrote.
SHA spokesman John Schofield verified the email, but said the supervisor was relaying information from upper management. Schoefield said blame for the miscommunication should rest with him and upper management, though he declined to name who in the SHA made the error. Tim Smith, deputy administrator for operations, and other senior officials held a meeting with employees Tuesday to rectify the situation.
“We need to do a better job communicating with our employees,” Schofield said. “I believe this is something that rests with me and the highest leadership of SHA. What we communicated today is that we own it and we’re going to fix it and we’re sorry.”
Fleas can get into an office space via rodents or raccoons, or can enter if a homeowner has an infestation from a cat or dog. An employee first reported fleas on July 13.
After the initial sighting, exterminators tried steam vacuum and spot and perimeter treatments in the office at the administration’s Hanover complex. Seven treatments have not eliminated the fleas.
At a meeting Friday, SHA officials “incorrectly relayed to the employees that they must get inspections of their homes done instead of the inspections being free options for them,” Schofield said.
On Tuesday, Smith, Schofield and others clarified that employees do not need to submit to a mandatory home inspection, but are welcome to use a free service, provided by Triangle Home Services. The home checks could help the SHA identify how fleas have been entering and thriving in the office, despite repeated treatments. It is unclear if any employees went through with the home tests between the two meetings.
The SHA has been investigating the fleas, which bite, transmit diseases and can infect dogs, cats and humans; administrators are considering moving employees to a different section of the complex. There are 80 employees who have had contact with the affected area.
Though Gov. Larry Hogan visited the complex last week, he was in the Statewide Operations Center, not the office affected, Schofield said.