As hospitals around the country look for innovative ways to enhance quality patient care, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in Belleville has invested in two germ-zapping robots that eliminate highly contagious superbugs.
The Xenex germ-killing robots use pulsed xenon ultraviolet (UV-C) light that is 25,000 times more intense than sunlight to effectively eliminate harmful superbugs, including Clostridium difficile (C. diff), MRSA, influenza and Ebola.
“It’s a very, very intense UV light,” said Rachael Sparks, technical director for San Antonio, Texas-based Xenex. “It doesn’t matter if something is resistant to antibiotics it kills it as well.”
The portable robots are used as an extra layer of patient protection and are brought into operating rooms and certain patient rooms after hospital staff has done a thorough cleaning of the area.
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“Patient safety is always our top priority,” said Pamela Newmaster, director of environmental services at St. Elizabeth’s. “We are excited to add this new technology into our already strong infection prevention protocols so we can be even more proactive in protecting the health of our patients.”
20 rooms cleaned by Xenex robots per day
1,100 rooms cleaned each month
800 rooms can be cleaned with UV bulb inside robot
Since implementing the robots in May, they have been deployed to more than 1,170 rooms throughout the hospital. In addition, the robots have regularly-scheduled duties in operating rooms, the emergency department, critical-care units and the cath lab.
“We zap 20 rooms a day,” Newmaster said, seven days a week. “We utilize a robot every night in our ORs including in our two heart rooms.”
It’s also hospital protocol now to disinfect a critical-care room a heart surgery patient will be going to after their surgery. “We zap that room prior to the patient coming out of surgery,” Newmaster said.
The two robots — nicknamed “Zappy” and “Max” through a hospital employee naming contest — were purchased through funding from HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Foundation at a cost of approximately $89,000 each.
The robots could potentially save the hospital money as hospitals can be fined if a patient gets an infection from the hospital and the cost of treating a case of a “superbug” is expensive.
Sparks said the cost of treating a C. diff case at a hospital is about $30,000. “If you prevent three to four to five infections in a year, you’ve got a return on investments,” she said.
St. Elizabeth’s is the first hospital in the St. Louis metropolitan region to use the Xenex robots, according to company officials. Nearly 300 other hospitals throughout the country use the robots, Sparks said.
Patient safety is our number one priority so anything we can do to prevent hospital-acquired conditions or infections is a priority for us.
Chellie Butel, the interim chief nursing officer at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital
During a demonstration Tuesday in an empty patient room at the Prairie Heart Institute Building at St. Elizabeth’s, the 3-foot-tall robot nicknamed Max was activated to clean the room, which is prepared by a hospital employee prior to the robot’s activation. Once activated, the employee exits the room and the robot uses UV light to disinfect every surface in the room.
The top of the robot raises up to 62 inches, or 5-foot-2 when activated, Sparks said. The UV light from the bulb hits surfaces throughout the room.
“We are making it (UV light) artificially inside the hospital rooms, because it kills germs — bacteria, viruses, mold, spores,” she said. “We do our best job trying to manually clean surfaces, but studies show we just miss things because we are human.”
The UV light from the robots fuse the DNA of bacteria viruses or RNA of viruses. “It causes damage to that DNA,” Sparks explained. “The damage is so tremendous the cell cannot replicate so it dies.”
Before it starts, the robot uses a motion detector to scan the room to ensure no people are inside. If anyone walks in during the cleaning, Sparks said the robot would turn itself off.
It takes about 15 minutes to clean the room, according to Newmaster, as the robot has to be repositioned three times: once on each side of the bed and once in the room’s bathroom.
“UV-C doesn’t reflect very well which is why we use it in multiple positions throughout the room,” Sparks said. “It is critical to hit the surfaces that are touched the most.”
Fifteen employees in the environmental services department are currently trained to utilize the Xenex robots.
St. Elizabeth’s has seen a decrease in C. diff cases since the hospital started using the robots in May, according to Chellie Butel, the interim chief nursing officer.
“The Xenex machines are specifically for C. diff,” Butel said. “Community wide C. diff is on the rise so a lot of patients come to us with C. diff.”
When a hospital has a case of a patient with a hospital-acquired infection, she said Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services penalizes the hospital.
“From a financial perspective, all hospitals need to be focusing on this,” Butel said. “Patient safety is our number one priority so anything we can do to prevent hospital-acquired conditions or infections is a priority for us.”
Details of the Xenex germ-zapping robot:
- Cost: $89,000 each
- Electricity cost: 15 cents a cycle
- Height: 3 feet and 5 feet, 2 inches when turned on
- Weight: 175 pounds
- Lifespan of robot: at least 5 years
- Made of: Chip-, dent-resistant plastic and metal casing is thick-walled aluminum