Starting next week, Arlington Heights-based Northwest Community Healthcare joins three other Illinois medical facilities by using robots to sterilize patient and surgical rooms.
The new Xenex robots, expected to make their debut Tuesday at NCH, use pulsed xenon ultraviolet light that is 25,000 times more powerful than sunlight to quickly destroy harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi, and bacterial spores. The robots will be used in addition to the hospital's regular cleaning and disinfecting crews to enhance patient care, said Tricia Elliott, NCH executive director of Quality & Decision Support.
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"It's an added layer of protection," she said.
NCH purchased the two robots, which cost roughly $100,000 each, from San Antonio, Texas-based Xenex Disinfection Services. The Xenex robots are now in about 200 hospitals and medical facilities nationwide, including at Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Gottlieb Hospital in Melrose Park, and FHN Memorial Hospital in Freeport, Ill.
The robots pulse xenon, an inert gas, twice a second at high intensity in a xenon ultraviolet flash lamp. This produces an ultraviolet light that penetrates the cell walls of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, mold, fungus and spores. Their DNA is instantly fused so that they are unable to reproduce or mutate, which kills them on surfaces and in the air, said Xenex spokeswoman Melinda Hart.
Hospital personnel would wheel the robot into a room, turn it on, and then leave the room. The robot, which is about 3-feet high, would extend itself to about 5-foot-2 and start emitting the light. It takes about 5 to 10 minutes for a room, Hart said.
This may be the only pulsed-xenon UV light disinfection system. Other companies sell mercury UV devices, but they take longer to disinfect a room, hours versus minutes, because they are less powerful, Hart said.
"And we're a green technology," Hart said.
Brigette Bucholz, NCH manager of Infection Prevention & Control, had attended a conference where she learned about the new robot sterilizing system. She brought that information back to hospital executives and infectious disease physicians and they decided to purchase the robots.
While NCH meets or exceeds standards for sterilizing rooms, this new system will provide even more protection. The hospital will use the devices in various areas and then track its progress, said Bucholz.
Hart pointed to studies that showed the robots have been credited for helping other facilities decrease by 50 percent their methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, known as MRSA, a bacterium responsible for several difficult-to-treat infections, and Clostridium difficile, or C. diff, a common cause of diarrhea in health care centers.
"If this works well, we may use it in other facilities as well," Bucholz said.
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