Olathe & Southwest Joco

To prevent hospital infections, Olathe Medical Center turns to robotics

The hospital’s new robotic disinfection system uses high-intensity light to kill bacteria.
The hospital’s new robotic disinfection system uses high-intensity light to kill bacteria. Courtesy Olathe Medical Center

When it comes to cleaning, Olathe Medical Center is going high-tech—and ultraviolet.

The hospital’s new robotic disinfection system uses the high-intensity light to kill bacteria that traditional methods might not eradicate from surfaces.

Although the hospital has only had the Surfacide Helios System for eight weeks, Stan Stuckey, infection prevention coordinator, has high hopes for its efficacy in reducing the number of hospital-acquired infections, such as clostridium difficile and MRSA.

“It is a powerful ultraviolet light that hits bacteria, viruses or spore-forming bacteria,” he said. “It disrupts their DNA. If there’s an area that didn’t get cleaned, this will kill any bacteria left.”

The system contains three towers on wheels that look more like tall humidifiers than robots.

To disinfect a room, you position them in different spots in the room so that when they turn on and start their 360-degree rotation, the ultraviolet light they emit will hit all surfaces in the room.

Other systems usually have just one tower, Stuckey said, so it takes much longer to clean a room. The time varies depending on the space, but it can take anywhere from 13 to 40 minutes.

Before the scan even starts, the towers do an initial scan and determine how long it will take to clean the room, based on their positions. Hospital staff can adjust them if necessary. Once they’re in place, the operator leaves the room and shuts the door, monitoring the progress on a tablet.

As a safety precaution, there are motion sensors that are part of the set-up. If someone accidentally enters the room while the cleaning is in progress, the system will automatically shut down.

The system is pricey — Stuckey estimated this type of system leases for $90,000 to $100,000 per year. Because it only has one robotic unit, the hospital can’t clean every room with it.

“We have prioritized the rooms. Top priority is a (room used by a) patient who has been in isolation for a drug resistant organism,” Stuckey said.

During the day, hospital personnel use the system to clean recently vacated patient rooms, and at night, they use it in the operating rooms.

Cleaners still use traditional methods, such as wiping down surfaces with bleach, in conjunction with the robotic system. They also go through a training program to learn how to use the robotic system most effectively. Right now, five people at the hospital are qualified to operate it.

Currently, the hospital cleans about 10 rooms per day with the system, but Joseph Dane, director of environmental services, said he hopes to increase that number as his staff becomes more efficient with the machines.

“In the grand scheme of things, if it prevents even one hospital acquired infection, it’s more than paid for itself,” Dane said.