Robots Kill Superbugs at Norton Audubon Hospital

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — At Norton Audubon Hospital in Louisville, three new sanitation workers have arrived, but they won’t be wearing scrubs. Metallic robots from San Antonio, Texas-based company Xenex Disinfection Services were purchased for $300,000 — or $100,000 a piece — to destroy potential germs and bacteria, especially drug-resistant superbugs like Clostridium difficile, better known as C. Diff, and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

These superbugs are often referred to as “health associated infections” (HAI) because patients pick them up while being treated for other problems in a hospital. About one in 25 patients contract an HAI every day and one in nine of those people will die from it. With more than 145,000 patient encounters last year, Norton Audubon Hospital is one of the most active in Norton’s health care system so they are very focused on reducing infection rates.

“Over the past few years, the hospital has seen a reduction in infection rates, but we hope to see that rate continue to drop with the addition of the robots,” said Jon Cooper, chief administrative officer at Norton, in a Louisville Business First article.

In the hospital, the Xenex robots are sent it to do their jobs after the environmental service department cleans the rooms as usual in an initial sweep. The robots — affectionately named Adele, Claude and Maddox — are activated and left alone to send out beams of ultraviolet light in operating rooms, intensive care units and empty rooms from discharged patients. Produced by xenon flash lamps, this light or UV-C energy passes through the cell walls of bacteria and viruses, damaging them.

Available in 2010, these robots are now used in 300 health care facilities nationwide. So far they have reduced C. Diff infection rates by 70 percent at Valhalla, N.Y.-based Westchester Medical Center University Hospital, drop surgical site infections by 100 percent at Vestavia Hills, Ala.-based Trinity Medical Center and reduce the rate of MRSA infections by 57 percent, according to Xenex’s research section of their website.

The Norton Audubon Hospital is also undergoing a $107 million upgrade and expansion project. Expected to take about 3.5 years to complete, construction is starting this spring.

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