Mercy Tests Superbug Killers, Including Xenex’s Germ-Zapping Robot

October 6, 2013

The visiting robot, named Ross, resembles R2D2 from Star Wars

and wreaks havoc on germs that threaten to harm patients, families and co-workers.

That’s not a screening of Poltergeist in the hospital room next door, but it seems like something out of a Sci-Fi thriller. The bright blue flashing light is coming from a germ-zapping robot sent here to protect you.

Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City is trialing equipment that uses pulsed xenon ultraviolet (UV-C) light – 25,000 times more powerful than sunlight – to destroy hard-to-kill bugs in hard-to-clean places.

The hospital in Oklahoma City isn’t the only Mercy facility whose leadership is looking at technologies to help stop those nasty bugs in their tracks – Springfield and St. Louis leaders are well into testing and using them, too.

“Harmful bacteria, viruses and organisms are getting harder and harder to combat,” said Dr. John Harkess, Mercy Hospital Oklahoma City infectious disease specialist. “Our infection control and lab teams are testing this technology for 30 days to see if we can prove it’s an investment that will make our hospital safer for patients, families and co-workers.”

Mid-September, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report that antibiotic-resistant bugs found in the U.S. – which they’re calling “nightmare bacteria” and “superbugs” – are getting out of control and that “overuse of antibiotics has helped create bacteria that are outliving the drugs used to treat them.”

The robot Mercy is testing, created by Xenex Disinfection Services of San Antonio, Texas, has been proven to be 20 times more effective than standard cleaning methods against a variety of the most dangerous superbugs including Clostridium difficile endospores (C. diff), norovirus, influenza and staph bacteria like Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, better known as MRSA.

“For the last decade, hospitals across our nation have made great strides to make the hospital environment as safe as it can be,” said Dr. Harkess. “Much has been done to prevent the transmission of harmful bacteria and other pathogens. This is a technology which may make our hospital cleaner and safer for those we care for here.”

Because the Xenex robot uses UV-C light, it can reach every surface in the room without leaving a chemical residue. Each treatment takes about five minutes. Following traditional sanitation, co-workers wheel the Xenex robot into the room, position it beside the bed, push the start button and leave the room.

With a buzz of its motor, the robot raises a column of UV-C lights, morphing it into an odd resemblance of E.T. and R2D2, with its short cylindrical body and long neck of lights. The robot begins its germ-killing routine with flashes of bright blue light that fill the room, which takes 10-15 minutes depending on the size of the room.

Oklahoma City isn’t the only Mercy community using innovative practices to combat antibiotic resistance, which the CDC is calling “a quickly growing, extremely dangerous problem.” Hospitals in St. Louis and Springfield are testing technologies, too.

At Mercy Hospital St. Louis, the infection control team uses a hydrogen peroxide vapor decontamination technology, called Bioquell, and has seen an 80 percent reduction in cross contamination in rooms where patients had an infection. The technology requires rooms to be sealed and evacuated for several hours while the vapor takes effect, so it can’t be used in high-risk, high-volume areas like operating rooms and emergency rooms, so UV-C cleaning technology is being tested there as well.

Co-workers at Mercy Hospital Springfield saw similar results with Bioquell and have recently started using Xenex’s UV-C robots in areas that can’t be evacuated for cleaning for such long periods.

The CDC report claims these deadly infections can be transmitted anywhere, but are most commonly contracted when patients are admitted to the hospital.

“When people are admitted to the hospital, they’re not in their best health,” said Dr. Sistrunk, Mercy Hospital Springfield infectious disease specialist. “Patients with potentially impaired immune systems are highly susceptible to infection and because antibiotics aren’t as effective, we’re running out of ways to help patients recover. This technology is the next step in infection prevention and we’re excited to embrace it – because it’s increasing our ability to protect our patients.”

Mercy is the sixth largest Catholic health care system in the U.S. and serves more than 3 million people annually. Mercy includes 32 hospitals, 300 outpatient facilities, 39,000 co-workers and more than 2,000 integrated physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has outreach ministries in Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. 


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Meredith Huggins
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