New robot zaps germs in Grand Rapids hospital

Posted at 6:14 PM, Jul 17, 2014
and last updated 2014-07-17 21:40:13-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Xenex robot is among Mercy Health St. Mary’s Hospital’s newest staff members.

The medical community describes it as a “germ-zapping” machine designed to disinfect hospital surfaces.

“It will kill bacteria and viruses in 5 minutes,” Kent Miller, the hospital’s director of environmental services said.

The robot extends more than 5 feet in the air, flashes an ultraviolet light, and illuminates an entire room.

“Healthcare-acquired infections within the hospital are becoming quite prevalent, and very expensive to treat and we have to absorb that now within the hospital setting,” Miller explained.

In a time where MRSA and other infectious bacteria are a concern, the hospital invested in two of the robots for $86,000 each, Miller said.

Staff named one robot Toto and the other is called Dorothy. The hospital has had them for two weeks.

“We do three positions in the typical patient room. One on each side of the bed and one in the bathroom, so that we disinfect all of the surfaces and that’s a total of 15 minutes, 5 minutes per position,” Liberty Dykehouse, the infection control coordinator explained.

Dykehouse said the hospital actually added three full-time employees to operate the robot around the clock.

Typically, Miller said, a room is empty as the machine runs. There are two safety mechanisms that turn it off if someone tries to enter the room. One is a sensor and the other is a manual “stop” button.

Despite it’s germ-killing technology, Miller said nothing can replace the human touch when it comes to a top-to-bottom cleaning.

“We still have to remove the soil that’s on the surfaces. So this machine does not clean, it just disinfects,” he explained that it’s an extra tool.

The technology is said to have come out in 2010 and is apparently a step up from similar versions.

Miller said the machines will pay for themselves in about 7 months, when taking into consideration the cost to compensate a patient who may have otherwise become infected during that time.