Robot battles germs at hospital

Andrea Rose
The Xenex LightStrike Germ-Zapping robot is at work at Chambersburg Hospital.

Patients concerned about germs have one more line of defense at Chambersburg Hospital. The Xenex LightStrike Germ-Zapping robot has arrived.

The Xenex robot looks like a cross between a rental carpet cleaning machine and R2D2.

It's mission: to get rid of the germs that cause nasty infections, such as MRSA and C.difficile.

"Our environmental services team already does a very thorough job cleaning patient rooms. The addition of the Xenex robots to our standard cleaning protocol is just one more safeguard to ensure we protect our patients," said Ericka Kalp, director of epidemiology and infection prevention at the hospital.

Studies have shown that hospitals using the Xenex system have had dramatic reductions in infection rates, even C.difficile, which is especially difficult to remove, since spores can live in surfaces for four to six months.

Each Xenex robot uses a shortwave ultraviolet UV-C light, which is the same type of bulb found on radio towers and airplane wings, to destroy germs. Each robot can clean one room in about 10 minutes.

"MRSA dies in less than five minutes and our hospitals are seeing a 50 to 70 percent drop in C.diff infections," said Rachael Sparks, technical director for XENEX, based in San Antonio, Texas.

Sparks said the $100,000 price tag per robot is offset by the savings on infections — The cost of treating one MRSA case is $10,000-$20,000, she said.

Chambersburg Hospital has three robots, which are used in the critical care unit and the medical surgery units, with plans to use them in the operating rooms.

The robots work when patients are not in the room, due to the UV-C light.

The first Xenex robot debuted in 2011 and there are now more than 415 hospitals in 18 countries using the technology with about 1,500-2,000 robots.

Chambersburg is the only hospital in the area to use the robot. "We are currently piloting the Xenex robots at Chambersburg Hospital," explained Allison Schuchart, strategic communications coordinator for Summit Health. "Leaders will evaluate potential need for additional robots at the hospital and other Summit Health affiliates, such as Waynesboro Hospital, in the future, always keeping the care and safety of our patients as our top priority."

"All the staff gets trained on it. It takes time, but it's worth the effort," Kalp said. "The support has been great from the top down."

"The main thing is to keep patients safe," said Thomas Anderson, vice president for medicals affairs at Summit Health. "This is just an extra step to improve outcomes and prevent infection."