by Mercy's Jordan Larimore
ST. LOUIS – For many, the feeling of wishing you had an extra pair of hands ̶ or maybe even a personal assistant ̶ is a familiar one. Whether the task to be tackled is bringing groceries inside, folding clothes or some other chore, most everyone can relate to having a long to-do list and not enough time to complete the tasks on it.
Nurses and other co-workers have a host of daily duties, and especially since the beginning of the pandemic, their responsibilities can feel overwhelming. Even before the pandemic, the U.S. faced a shortage of clinical caregivers. Today, as one in five health care workers in the U.S. has left the industry, the situation is even more urgent. To help co-workers do what they do best ̶ take care of patients – Mercy has implemented an innovative way to accomplish time-intensive support tasks.
“When there aren’t enough hands or feet to get everything done, a set of wheels can make all the difference. TUGs, autonomous robots, take care of so many tasks that used to slow us down and take time away from our patients,” said Kim Kerlagon, a patient ambassador at Mercy Hospital Jefferson, where the robots have been in use the past three years. “They can pick up and deliver patient meals, linens and even medications. Every trip a TUG makes is one a human being doesn’t have to, and for nurses and other caregivers, it means we can spend more time with our patients.”
After a successful pilot program at Mercy Jefferson, outside of St. Louis, TUGs are being put to use at Mercy’s largest hospital in St. Louis, with a target launch date by the end of January 2023, followed by other Mercy hospitals throughout the year.
“The use of TUGs across Mercy’s communities continues a commitment to taking an innovative approach to health care to benefit patients and the care they receive,” said Eric Ammons, president of Mercy Hospital Jefferson. “Mercy was among the first care systems in the U.S. to have a comprehensive, integrated electronic health record. TUG robots are another in a growing list of innovations that enable Mercy co-workers to focus on delivering the best possible patient care. And when you next visit a Mercy facility, make sure to look for a TUG.”
TUGs, named for the way they dependably tote carts containing various supplies around the hospital, are truly autonomous. They can sense obstacles and people in their way and can navigate around them, react to emergencies and remove themselves from an area, even call and ride the hospital’s elevators to navigate the building.
“Honestly, I wish I could get one of these things for my house,” said Jacquelyn Bauch, executive director of support services at Mercy Jefferson. “They just handle so many little things that have to get done but either take time or are just tedious. Imagine having a robot that can take out your trash and do your laundry. It just frees up so much time for our health care workers who are stretched thin. They don’t replace co-workers, but instead help us do more important work, spending even more time with patients.”
“Like everything we do, the implementation of TUGs is very strategic,” said Dr. John Mohart, president of Mercy communities and chief clinical officer. “We know the needs in all of our facilities are different, so the TUGs will be doing different jobs in different places. This technology will support whichever co-workers need it the most.”