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Manchester's Elliot Hospital now has 3 germ-zapping robots

Staff report
August 15. 2014 8:29PM

Patrica Heywood, supervisor of environmental services, programs Elliot Hospital's new germ zapping robot while giving a demonstration on Friday. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

8/15/14--Xenex, Elliot Hospital's new germ zapping robot, pulses ultraviolight light killing potentially harmful single-cell organisms. DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER

MANCHESTER — Aurora, Twilight and Violet are the latest weapons in the germ-killing arsenal at Elliot Hospital.

Despite their pleasant names, the three germ disinfection robots are killers. They zap germs with ultra-violet light pulses, which disrupt the DNA of a single cell germ and destroy it so it can’t reproduce and spread.

Patient Safety Officer Martha Leighton organized and led the investigation and testing demonstration that resulted in the purchase of the robots, which began work in June.

It’s only been two and a half months, but the results are impressive. When it comes to the drug-resistant germ Clostridium difficile or c-diff that are so difficult to treat, Leighton said in June and July: “We’re half of where we were.”

Chief Medical Officer Greg Baxter said while hospital-acquired infectionss are decreasing, the goal is “to narrow that gap to zero.”

Baxter said the robots don’t substitute for best practices cleaning, they supplement it. Over time, he said, they decrease contamination beyond what regular cleaning can do. They beam their germ-killing light into cracks and crevices where germs can be hiding.

Leighton hastened to add: “We still clean ... it doesn’t replace people doing the job of cleaning.” The robots, which can destroy germs within seven feet in five minutes, have regular rounds.

They are used in priority areas such as newborn intensive care, pediatric intensive care and the adult intensive care units and for patients on high precautions. “The operating and procedure rooms are cleaned every night,” said Leighton.

Hospital-acquired infections cost hospitals money and can cost patients their lives, so it makes sense to employ a robot that uses ultra-violent light to kill germs.

Other kinds of robots use mercury bulbs to generate the light, but after studying all the types of germ-zapping robots, the xenon gas bulb robot was the way to go for the Elliot, based on speed and safety.

Leighton said the pulsing light is not a danger to people who suffer seizures. She said the rate is set to ensure it won’t be a problem.

She said the hospital housekeeping staff didn’t resist a new machine. To the contrary. “Overwhelmingly, they are thrilled,” said Leighton.

The hospital is also designing tent cards, to notify patients and visitors about the robots and their purpose.

While the hospital may seem to be an early adopter, with Concord Hospital the only other hospital in the state with robots, Baxter said it’s important to take steps to improve hospital germ fighting and to not be afraid to embrace new technology. “To wait for class A is to wait a little too long,” he said.

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