A mother whose daughter with brain cancer was admitted to Ascension Sacred Heart late Thursday night says she and her daughter were both woken up in a hospital room around 3 a.m. by an uncomfortable sensation — itching.
Clusters of bed bugs were crawling on the hospital bed, couch, recliner, down her own arms and across her daughter’s chest, Brandy Matt told the News Journal. And the bugs were biting, she said.
“I don’t want another family to come in here with a sick child and wind up getting them, too,” Matt said, explaining her decision to speak with the News Journal about her experience. “Considering everything that happened this past weekend, I feel frustration, anger, anxiety and depression.”
On Thursday evening, the 32-year-old mother of three made the familiar, hour-plus drive to The Studer Family Children's Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart in Pensacola with her oldest child from their home in Opp, Alabama.
Lilly Matt, 11, has battled the painful symptoms of a kidney condition called hydronephrosis since birth. She has always sought treatment at Sacred Heart and once even participated in a radiothon to raise money for the children’s ward.
Lilly’s routine trips to the emergency room only increased in 2016 when oncologists detected a tumor in her young brain.
Despite all the time they’ve spent at Sacred Heart, Matt told the News Journal that she and her daughter have never experienced such unsanitary conditions nor felt so disregarded by hospital administrators as they did this past weekend.
“There were bed bugs on the couch. There were some on the bed. There were some on the recliner,” she said. “Lilly got bit, and the only thing that they’ve been doing is giving her Benadryl to try and stop the itching, because she has welts on her stomach and chest from bites.”
Throughout the weekend, Matt said she continually requested to speak with doctors — not only to address the bed bug situation, but also to inquire about her daughter’s health. Her requests went unanswered for days, she said.
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“We were here to determine if her tumor was getting bigger, and just trying to get doctors to answer us this weekend was like pulling teeth,” Matt said. “I understand the whole COVID-thing is going on, but really?”
“Once I wrote on Facebook about it,” she said, referring to a Sunday night post, “it seemed like, all of a sudden, everybody cared.”
When the News Journal contacted Sacred Heart for comment, hospital spokesman Mike Burke said in a written statement that "out of respect for patient privacy and due to the federal HIPAA law that restricts the disclosure of protected health information, we cannot comment on a patient's care or condition."
"The health and safety of our patients, visitors and staff is always our top priority and we follow rigorous infection control protocols and precautions to protect everyone who enters our hospitals and other sites of care," the statement continued.
The statement did not reference the Matt family's situation, but addressed how the hospital typically handles bed bug infestations:
"To prevent an infestation of bed bugs, staff members inspect mattresses during the process of cleaning a room after each patient is discharged," the statement readers. "Any suspicion or identification of bed bugs is reported to the Infection Control Department and Environmental Service Department. We then contact pest control professionals to come and exterminate any infestation. This policy is part of our commitment to take all necessary steps to continue to ensure the health and safety of our patients and their families."
After the News Journal reached out to the hospital for comment Tuesday, Matt said the president of The Studer Family Children's Hospital at Ascension Sacred Heart, Will Condon, paid a visit to her daughter’s hospital room that evening to apologize.
“He said he was extremely sorry for what we’re been through this weekend, and he acknowledged that we were part of the spokespeople who helped raise money for the hospital,” Matt said. “He said that there was nothing that he really could say to make up for what we went through this weekend, but he wanted to meet us face-to-face to give us his apology.”
'Mommy, I don't like this. I'm itchy. I don't know what’s going on'
When Lilly complained of blurred vision and nausea Thursday evening, Matt drove her to the emergency room in Pensacola fearing her daughter's brain tumor had once again started to enlarge.
Lilly underwent an MRI, an ultrasound and had blood drawn at Sacred Heart, and she was admitted to the hospital that night — before hearing back about her test results related to her tumor — after doctors determined she had a kidney infection.
“When we got to the room, things seemed good. It was a nice room. Well, we thought it was nice room. We thought it was clean. About 3 o’clock that morning, all of a sudden, we wake up, and we’re itching,” Matt recalled. “And we look, and you can actually see the bed bugs crawling across the couch we had made into my bed.”
As the sleepiness dissipated, Matt began noticing bugs all over the room and they scared Lilly.
“I was like ‘Mommy, I don’t like this. I’m itchy. I don’t know what’s going on.’ I was scared,” Lilly recalled to the News Journal.
Lilly remembers the bugs being all over her and her mother’s bags and shoes and her "coloring stuff." She said the bugs were even scuttling across her favorite stuffed animal, a wolf named "Wolfie."
Matt said she immediately reported her daughter's room was writhing with bed bugs to nurses, who directed the mother to take off her clothes and put them in plastic bags, along with her and her daughter’s shoes and all their possessions — except for a wallet and cellphone. The nurses gave Matt scrubs to wear.
“The nurses did state that the patient who was in the room prior to us was the one that brought the bed bugs and that they had supposedly fumigated the room,” Matt said. “Well, obviously they didn’t or it didn’t work.”
Nurses moved Lilly to a different room across the hall, but despite repeated inquires about how she could recover her belongings, Matt said she did not get the bulk of her things back until Tuesday.
Not wanting to drive home and leave her daughter alone, the mom wore scrubs without shoes for two days until a relative could bring her fresh supplies Monday morning.
Furthermore, the mother said she did not receive information about her daughter’s test results Friday, Saturday or Sunday and grew frustrated to the point of publicly posting her concerns onto social media Sunday night — accompanied by photos of the beg bugs.
“After I did that, they tried to correct the situation of when no doctors would talk to us all weekend,” Matt said. “They told me Monday they were putting together a meeting of all the doctors to talk to me (to address both her daughter's health and the beg bugs)."
Lilly received her discharge from the hospital Tuesday after some not-so-great news, her mom said.
Doctors concluded Lilly had been having small seizures, which are likely what caused her vision to go blurry. The 11-year-old will most likely have to endure another round of chemotherapy in the near future. Earlier this year, a GoFundMe fundraising page was created to help pay for Lilly's medical expenses.
"It was nice they finally apologized, and gave us answers," Matt told the News Journal, just before she and her daughter left the hospital Tuesday evening. "They should have done it during the weekend."
Colin Warren-Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-435-8680.
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