Mold contamination in homeless shelter made six children sick, mother says

CINCINNATI -- Erica Jackson had nowhere else to turn when she brought her six children to Bethany House, a shelter for families dealing with homelessness, abuse and poverty like her own. Within weeks of her arrival, her year-old son -- fragile and prone to illness since his premature birth -- had begun to cough and wheeze.

The symptoms spread to her other five children, prompting Jackson to take them to Children's Hospital. There, doctors diagnosed them all with respiratory infections stemming from exposure to black mold in the shelter.

"I have babies who are sick, and I feel like that's dead wrong," Jackson said. "I made phone calls to the health department; I've made phone calls to legal aid; I've had a sit-down meeting with the president of Bethany House."

The shelter's executive director, Susan Schiller, acknowledged that staff found black mold inside the shelter after Jackson came to them with her concerns. According to Schiller, the bathroom in which it was found has been completely cleaned since she learned about the contamination.

Jackson said she hoped Bethany House would go deeper and order a thorough cleaning of the building's HVAC system in order to protect families like her own.

"At some point, somebody got to speak up, and I'm going to be that person," she said. "I'm going to be everybody in the house's voice."

Schiller said Bethany House takes all residents' health and safety concerns seriously and works to address them promptly. The mold, she added, is no longer a danger.

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