The Sad Scenario When Property Is Placed Before People: Reflections on a MRSA Apartment Cleanup

As the owners of a biohazard remediation service, my wife and I are called upon to assist families in a wide range of different situations. In the process of undertaking our work, we oftentimes interact with people during very challenging circumstances. Recently, my team and I encountered one such situation when we were called upon to clean a small apartment in Los Angeles,  when the tenant was hospitalized with a MRSA infection and multiple heart attacks leaving him permanently disabled.  The resident will not be coming back to the apartment; he will be moving into an assisted living facility when discharged from the hospital. For the purposes of this reflection, I’ll call the tenant Robert.

The apartment itself was generally clean and sparsely furnished. There was some blood and feces left behind when Robert was taken to the hospital. Because he had a MRSA infection, comprehensive biohazard remediation was necessary to ensure that no trace of the bacteria was left behind

What is MRSA?

At the outset, and before discussing the ins and outs of this assignment, having a basic understanding of MRSA is important. MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, is a bacterial infection that has the potential for causing serious and even fatal, infections in different parts of an individual’s body. MRSA is far more difficult to treat than other types of staph infections. MRSA is hard to treat because it is resistant to most of the commonly utilized antibiotics available today.

Arriving at the Scene

The neighbor met us at the apartment to let us in. Robert’s “family” was at the apartment when my team and I arrived. They were there to collect “valuables” from the apartment and search for “lots of cash” they believed to be hidden in the little one bedroom apartment.  They didn’t have any specific authorization from the hospitalized tenant.  The landlord insisted that they should not be allowed to take any items from the apartment. The landlord made clear that his tenant’s family had no contact with Robert. According to the landlord, the family arrived now only to attempt to take his property, without any real proof that they were entitled to do so. As much as we sometimes would like to take a stand in a situation like this, we lack the legal authority to do so. However we did document their behavior and the neighbor was there to photograph any items being removed.

We began our work on the biohazard cleanup and remediation of the apartment. The place was tidy and nicely kept, although there clearly was nothing of significant value in the residence. This reality didn’t stop Robert’s family.

Pot of Gold Hidden in the Apartment

Robert’s family members were convinced that he’d hidden a significant amount of money in the apartment – and they wanted it. Bear in mind that they intended to find and take the money even through Robert was alive and headed from a hospital to an assisted living facility.

Robert’s neighbors came by during the cleaning process. One of Robert’s family members all but accused one of the neighbors of stealing the alleged “pot of gold” the family contended was tucked away in the apartment. Of course, it’s impossible to make a blanket statement about whether or not something or another of value might be hidden away in a home, our close work at Robert’s home certainly suggested to me that such a scenario was highly unlikely.

The neighbors kept their cool as Robert’s family members railed against them. In the end, the wife pointed out that none of Robert’s “loved ones” had been by to see him in many years.

I recommended that the landlord standby at the apartment when Robert’s family was present. In the alternative, I suggested that the landlord call the police and have an officer present at the scene while the family members were present. These types of issues were beyond what we could do as service providers, a reality which was highly frustrating to my team and I.

Pilfering Property

As I mentioned at the start of this reflection, we were at the apartment, in part, to undertake a MRSA remediation. The alarming reality is that this bacterium can survive on surfaces for a period of time. In other words, if a person makes contact with a surface contaminated by MRSA, that individual can end up infected with the bacterium, a situation that can have serious and even fatal health consequences.

My technician and I wore what is known as personal protective equipment when we were in the apartment. This is mandatory to prevent infection by a dangerous pathogen like MRSA. (At a minimum, this equipment includes goggles, face mask, gloves, as well as some type of uniform, smock, or apron. Despite my firm warning, family members entered the premises without proper protection.

The family members, intent on leaving with Robert’s possessions, had nonetheless not brought anything along in which to transport them. Thus, they ended up “borrowing” bags we brought for the purpose of cleaning the premises.

Epilogue

Fortunately, we rarely witness situations like that which occurred at Robert’s apartment. I wish I could say that this type of conduct doesn’t often happen. The reality is that we’ve all probably seen examples of people taking advantage of situations similar to Robert’s. In my own life, I recall such a scenario.

I was very close to my grandfather. He lived next door to my family home when I was a child. He had taken me under his wings after the sudden loss of my own father only a year earlier. 

My grandfather was killed in a truly horrific traffic accident while on his honeymoon. His new bride and himself were both killed instantly. I vividly remember family members coming to my grandfather’s home immediately after his death. These included mostly people I’d never seen.

Without missing a beat, these people dove right into going through my grandfather’s belongings. In thinking about it today, the whole scene reminds me of a Black Friday sale at Macy’s or some other store – people aggressively pawing through items and grabbing onto what they can.

I couldn’t fully process what was going on at the time. With that said, even at the age of 10, I knew that this type of behavior was not acceptable or appropriate.

Because of my childhood experience, and because of what I witness on some thankfully rare occasions through my work, I find myself perplexed and saddened by the behavior of some people in the aftermath of a tragedy or other type of challenging event. My hope is that by sharing this reflection, some future good might come out of what I’ve witnessed. Perhaps this reflection will remind a person of the broader reality that exists when a person is in a challenging life situation or when an individual has died.