Germ-zapping robots rise in number at UHC

Apr 24, 2018

BRIDGEPORT — Lenni and Stella, two “germ-zapping” robots, have been added to the arsenal of germ-fighting technologies at United Hospital Center.

The new Xenex LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robots will be used exclusively in operating rooms and join others that have been deployed at the hospital since 2016. At that time, the Xenex robots replaced older, mercury-filled ultraviolet disinfection machines used since the 2010 opening of the building in Bridgeport.

While staff named the three older Xenex machines UHC3PO, Elroy and USHER, an acronym for ultra sanitation health-care efficient robot, they decided to keep the new machines’ given names.

“The staff actually liked the names, so they just wanted to keep what they were already named,” said Dr. Mark Povroznik, chairman of infection control at UHC.

The additional machines are part of hospital efforts to reduce health-care associated infections, which occur in health-care facilities across the globe.

An estimated 1 in 25 hospital patients nationwide has at least one health-care associated infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Over time, some bacteria capable of causing serious infection or illness have become resistant to the antibiotics and chemicals traditionally used to kill them. These strains have come to be known as “superbugs” or “nightmare bacteria.”

“They exist in every state, so none of us is immune to it. It’s just what processes do you have to minimize them and controlling them in your environment,” Povroznik said.

Room-to-room cleaning techniques have remained the same, although the chemicals have changed over the years, but new technologies have helped supplement those efforts, according to Povroznik.

“With ultraviolet, you still have to manually clean. It’s not going to get rid of a bloodstain unless you clean it, but it’s effective to get rid of bacteria,” he said.

The ultraviolet light emitted from the robots helps kill the bacteria that may have been missed.

Typically, the robots are used at the end of the day for 5 minutes after room cleaning to kill bacteria.

The additional machines will allow the hospital to implement additional 2-minute ultraviolet disinfection periods throughout the day between operating room patients, making it the first hospital in West Virginia or any of the five surrounding states to do so.

“What we’re doing is based off a study that was published in 2017 that showed bacteria bioburden can be lowered 70 percent more (than cleaning alone) by a 2-minute protocol in between cases,” Povroznik said.

The new protocol, which has been in effect since January, made the additional ultraviolet units necessary, he said.

“We have to have fast turnover. We can’t be going looking for a robot. If we’re going to do a two-minute zap, it’s got to be there and ready to go,” he said.

The machines work by creating ultraviolet C.

“The sun emits ultraviolet A, B and C, but ultraviolet C never gets to Earth because it’s blocked by the ozone layer, so that’s why this is effective at deactivating the RNA and DNA of these cells, because they’ve never been exposed to it,” said Scott Young, Midwest territory manager for Xenex Germ-Zapping Robots.

“Essentially what ultraviolet does is disrupt the DNA and infuses it to where the bacteria can’t replicate. … If a bacteria can’t replicate, it dies,” Povroznik explained.

According to Povroznik, the hospital’s infection rate was already low. Last December, the facility was ranked first in the state for fewest complications and patient safety in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ Hospital Compare data collection tool.

New methods and technologies can help make it even better, however, Povroznik said.

“The goal is to target zero. To do that, it’s taking newer technologies and finding novel ways to utilize it,” Povroznik said.


Credit Melinda Hart