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Clean machine

By KALEY CONNER

kconner@dailynews.net

It looks a little similar to Star Wars' R2-D2, but Hays Medical Center's new white "robot" is up-and-coming health care technology that battles hard-to-kill viruses and bacteria.

The Xenex machine emits strong blasts of ultraviolet light, targeting microorganisms on high-touch surfaces that might linger even after routine room cleaning.

"Knowing pathogens are becoming more resistant, we wanted to look into the technology," said Bevra Brinkman, HaysMed's infection prevention officer. "We looked at ultraviolet light and did a pilot study. We were very pleased with that and felt that's what we needed to move forward with."

"And, of course, the utmost reason for that is patient safety," Brinkman said.

Hospital "superbugs," or antibiotic-resistant bacteria, have made national news lately and caused concern in the medical community. While some bacteria can mutate and become resistant to cleaning agents, studies have found high levels of ultraviolet light significantly reduce the amount of germs.

HaysMed launched a pilot study with the technology in December. Brinkman took a random sample of bacteria from patient rooms that were and were not sterilized by the machine.

The results indicated the amount of bacteria decreased 11.2 percent when the robot was used, she said, noting quality-assurance measures will continue to monitor the machine's performance.

Infection levels at HaysMed have remained low, but staff wanted to implement the technology for the sake of prevention, Brinkman said. According to data on the hospital's website, the overall 2012 infection level was slightly less than 0.5 percent per 1,000 patient days.

The machine is easy to use. After a patient is discharged, environmental services staff will take the robot to a patient room or operating room and simply push a button. Three five-minute rotations are needed to sanitize a room. Staff will come in between cycles to move the machine, but no one is allowed inside during the cleaning process, said Jack Zepeda, an account manager with the Xenex company.

Warning signs are placed outside the door when the machine is in use, and it is equipped with a motion detector so the cycle will stop if someone walks in the door. While a single exposure to the intense light likely will not cause harm, there are potential risks if long-term exposure occurs, Zepeda said.

"The devices pulse UV light, 450 pulses to be exact, in a period of five minutes," he said. "Within those five minutes, we're able to get a variety of microorganisms."

Those microorganisms include MRSA, which causes staph infections, and C. difficile, which can cause severe diarrhea and be life-threatening.

The concept of using ultraviolet light to fight bacteria is not new; other forms of UV disinfection have been around since the 1970s, Zepeda said.

"It's an old idea but with new technology," he said. "The difference here is the technology has evolved. ... It has the capacity to do the job more efficiently and in a much more powerful way."

The technology has been on the market since 2011 and is used by more than 100 hospitals nationwide. HaysMed is the first Xenex hospital in Kansas, but Brinkman said she expects more to embrace the technology.

"I think we're all fighting the same battle with these pathogens," she said. "I think that's the most important piece of this is being up on the technology and what we can do to reduce opportunity for infection."