BILLINGS - Senior care is a growing concern for families in Montana, and now former residents of a second senior apartment complex in Billings are speaking out about a bed bug infestation.
When Janet Rivera's disabled brother moved into Sage Tower, located near downtown Billings, it seemed like the perfect fit.
"I thought it was well-managed, clean, and they offered him meals still," Rivera said. "It seemed like a good thing for him."
At the time, her brother Ralph had just recently been laid off from his job. To make matters worse, their parents, whom Ralph had been living with for his entire life, died, leaving him without much support.
But this was in 2014, and Rivera said that the conditions at Sage Tower were much better then. As management changed, conditions deteriorated in the complex, and that included Ralph's bed becoming infested with bed bugs.
"I thought they were addressing the bed bugs sufficiently because they were spraying pretty frequently and I hadn't researched it like I should've," Rivera said. "Obviously, they weren't handling it the right way."
As she watched the building become unsafe for her older brother, Rivera said she felt helpless and knew she needed to change something.
"I just wanted to get him out of here because I didn't feel it was safe," Rivera said.
And unfortunately, the situation in Sage Tower doesn't seem to have changed. Former resident Robin Shuler said she just recently moved out because of the current living conditions.
"It's dirty in here," Shuler said outside of the complex Monday afternoon. "It's livable, but it's dirty."
According to Shuler, she too, dealt with bed bugs, and she said the conditions were so bad that her family opted to not visit her.
"Family and friends wouldn't even come over," Shuler said. "They'd drop the kids off and hope for the best."
Shuler now lives in a senior facility in Billings, which she moved into in February. Even though she's in a better environment, she still worries about her former neighbors at Sage Tower.
"I always stay worried for them," Shuler said. "I care, but I made the choice to move on so they need to too if they think it's the right thing to do."
And while the health department doesn't have data that specifically tracks bed bugs in senior living homes, Clark Snyder with RiverStone Health's environmental health services said it's common to see the infestation in these types of homes.
"Probably 25 percent of the complaints we get here are in regards to apartment complexes," Snyder said.
Snyder also said that bed bugs don't carry diseases, but they could be bad for residents' health.
"I'd say the biggest health concern is mental health issues," Snyder said. "They can cause anxiety, sleeplessness, which can lead to depression."
As for Janet and Ralph Rivera, he now lives at St. John's, an assisted-living facility in another part of town. The cost of living is nearly twice as much as his former arrangement at Sage Tower.
"I won't totally blame management because I know that's all based on funding for the subsidized housing," Rivera said. "I think it's the whole system that's at fault."
And while Rivera's happy her brother is in a better place, she knows others aren't so lucky.
"Most people that live here couldn't afford to live out there," Rivera said. "People like this need assistance, and I guess for me it's frustrating when I see our politicians trying to cut funding for some of these local services."