Mercy Health Saint Mary’s has two new weapons against HAIs


Courtesy Mercy Health Saint Mary's Hospital

Patients can thank two behind-the-scenes, germ-fighting robots for added protection against hospital-acquired infections at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s Hospital.

The hospital this month implemented two Xenex UV light disinfection systems for the purpose of disinfecting patient rooms after standard discharge cleaning procedures, in an effort to improve patient safety and reduce infections.

The Xenex UV light disinfection system utilizes ultraviolet light, which is 25,000 times more powerful than sunlight to destroy harmful bacteria, viruses, fungi and bacterial spores in the patient environment. With no chemical residue and no traces of mercury or hydrogen peroxide, the robot is the only “green” technology used in automated room disinfection, according to a press release.

The device is a product of Texas-based Xenex Services LLC and is used to eliminate dangerous pathogens or infections, such as: MRSA, which is resistant to some antibiotics; C. diff, or Clostridium difficile, a bacterium that can cause symptoms ranging from diarrhea to life-threatening colitis; norovirus; influenza; and other staph bacteria.

Liberty Dykehouse, infection control preventionist at Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, said the disinfecting systems are a great investment for the hospital in terms of patient safety and financial return.

“Our first focus is patient safety, and for that it is a definite return on investment because if we can prevent just one infection, it is worth it to us,” said Dykehouse. “Certainly there is the financial investment. Hospital-acquired infections are very expensive and preventing them, from that perspective, is important.”

Sylvia Aukeman, prevention control coordinator, said it is important to reduce the chance of patients coming into a health care setting and leaving with an infection.

“We are passionate about what we do and we are just so pleased that Mercy Health Saint Mary’s supports us on this,” said Aukeman. “I think this is actually the cutting edge of what is going to be happening in all hospitals. There is no other system that is as good, efficient and green. It’s phenomenal.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that C. diff is correlated to approximately 23,000 deaths annually, and despite recent declines in severe MRSA infections, it remains an important public health problem, with roughly 11,285 related deaths in 2011.

C. diff is definitely a hard one. It is one of the harder organisms to kill because it forms a spore that is not killed by regular disinfectants, and it can live on surfaces for several months,” said Dykehouse. “The UV light is really great because everything the light touches it disinfects.”

Kent Miller, director of environmental services, said the hospital has received the two approximately $86,000 disinfecting systems, and staff went through initial training in June.

“We did get approval to hire additional staffing for running the UV disinfecting units and they were trained specifically by Xenex individuals who came here to do the training,” said Miller. “We have three dedicated staff who are running the machine around the clock as much as we can. … We are in full implementation mode.”

With the added staff and the cost of the two machines, Miller said the health care organization reported the return on investment period at roughly seven and a half months. 

Preventing patients from the possibility of contracting an added infection is beneficial for both the patient and the hospital, according to Dykehouse.

“Even one C. diff infection can cost just that much,” said Dykehouse, referring to the cost of one machine. “It kind of depends on the patient and everything that is going on, but the cost of an infection is very expensive, and the government is no longer paying for those hospital-acquired infections.”

With more than 2 million patients estimated to contract an infection while in the hospital, according to the CDC, and an average additional hospital cost of $15,275 per patient, Xenex Services estimates the cost burden of hospital-acquired infections in the United States at approximately $30.5 billion.

The UV-C light utilized by the Xenex system has been proven effective against C. diff spores and staph bacteria, such as MRSA, which is one of the most common causes of health-care-associated infections. Massachusetts-based Cooley Dickenson Hospital reported a 53 percent reduction in C. diff infection rates after using the Xenex system, while MRSA infections declined by 56 percent in 2011 at Cone Health in North Carolina, which resulted in an approximate savings of $2.3 million in related costs.

Mercy Health Saint Mary’s will monitor data using wireless connection on the robots to measure the number of times a room is cleaned and the duration of disinfection to track infection rates and the return on investment.

Dykehouse said infection control plays an important part in patient safety and health satisfaction.

“I think that is something that is really underappreciated, but it is so vitally important because our environment can really transmit those diseases, and they are already going a great job of doing the manual cleaning and disinfecting of the room,” said Dykehouse. “Really, this is the last piece of the puzzle for patient safety.”

Environmental services staff at Mercy Health will position the robotic device beside the bed after a patient is discharged and will follow an automated sequence to eliminate potential pathogens after a standard disinfection process conducted by staff members. Staff and personnel are not present in the room while the Xenex device is in the process of disinfection, due to the UV light causing irritation to eyes. 

The Xenex system also will be used to clean operating rooms, intensive care and isolation rooms, intervention radiology and C-section suites. The two Xenex systems are anticipated to disinfect up to 30 discharged patients rooms and all 27 operating rooms and procedural areas on a daily basis, according to the press release.

Initially implemented in 2010, the Xenex robotic device is currently used in more than 250 hospitals and Veteran Affairs facilities across the world.

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