Ellis shines light on preventing infections
New device uses ultraviolet rays to kill dangerous germs
SCHENECTADY A new kind of caution sign will pop up around the halls of Ellis Hospital. It won’t warn for wet floors or wet paint, but rather exposure to ultraviolet light.
Passersby will be fine, as long as they don’t go through that door with the pulsating blue glow shining through the crack. Or even if they do, since the machine producing the light has a motion detector that will automatically shut itself off when activated.
Really, the signs are just a time-saving precaution — not to mention a physical badge of disinfected honor for each patient room it appears in front of.
Behind the door will be a Xenex portable disinfection device doing its job. By pulsating blue light throughout a patient room, the Xenex Healthcare Services’ patented technology destroys viruses, bacteria and bacterial spores, all in about 5 to 10 minutes.
Some of those viruses and spores, like MRSA or C. diff, can and have killed.
“At the center of everything is the patient,” said Ellis Medicine spokeswoman Donna Evans. “We just really need to keep that patient safe from contracting something that they didn’t come in with.”
Ellis just got its hands on a Xenex on Tuesday, making it the first in the region and second in the state to use the innovative disinfection technology. So far, it’s one of only three dozen hospitals across the nation to use it.
“When I heard of the UV light technology, I thought, ‘Well, you know, that’s what we use in the microbiology lab to disinfect surfaces,’ ” said Eve Bankert, Ellis Medicine’s director of infection prevention and a clinical microbiologist for 26 years. “It really made a lot of sense to me, and I thought it was something that could really add value to our process.”
The process is one she was assigned to spearhead back in early 2011, when Ellis Hospital and hospitals across the nation saw a noticeable rise in patients infected with Closstridium difficile. C. diff is a common cause of diarrhea acquired in health care settings that is difficult to treat and can even be fatal.
The hospital responded with a task force led by Bankert that emphasized the importance of hand washing and cleaning equipment. And in a year, the cases of C. diff acquired at Ellis have dropped by 50 percent.
But much in the way that a grade of A is great and a grade of A-plus is even better, Ellis management decided to take its “war on hospital-acquired infections” a step further.
“We promote a culture of safety in a number of ways in our organization,” said Bankert. “I’ll credit administration a good deal with that. They really had a lot of foresight to obtain the Xenex. We like to think of ourselves as innovative, and they really saw a lot of positives to getting this.”
The positives were hard to ignore.
For one, the Xenex is fast. After a patient is discharged, cleaning staff will still come in and disinfect high-touch surfaces in a room according to national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state Department of Health guidelines. They’ll wipe down bed railings, faucets, toilets, door knobs, phones, controls, computers on wheels and so on. For rooms that housed patients with a superbug like MRSA or C. diff, cleaning staff would also use bleach to disinfect.
“This is where we bring in this piece of equipment,” said Joe Salvione, Ellis Hospital’s director of environmental services. “Our main focus is obviously patient safety and prevention of hospital-acquired infections, so this device is really an added tool in our arsenal to address those.”
When housekeeping finishes disinfecting the bathroom, the Xenex will be rolled in, turned on and the door shut as it pulses its light. During this time, housekeeping will disinfect the main room, rolling in the Xenex after they’re finished to zap any stubborn germs.
The Xenex is effective. Installed in the nearly 5-foot-tall device resembling an industrial floor vacuum is a Smart Lamp system, which uses reflectors and movement to focus UV light toward high-touch surfaces. It’s proven to be 20 times more effective than standard chemical cleaning and has resulted in a facility-wide decrease in C. diff infection rates.
“Understanding and knowing the technology, I really have a high level of comfort with getting this at Ellis,” said Bankert. “I also think we’re going to set the stage for other hospitals in the Capital Region.”
The Xenex is environmentally friendly. Its name is derived from xenon, an inert and odorless gas that lacks the health and toxicity concerns of its sterilizing UV light counterpart, mercury.
The use of UV sterilization technology has been widespread in the United States for a few decades and is used to protect public water sources, air ducts in buildings, food manufacturing, research laboratories and elsewhere.
“What’s new here is the application of it in the patient room,” said Evans.
The Xenex is cost-effective, an important element for hospitals to consider, given the increasingly expensive health care system. By lowering infection rates, hospitals are saving money they would have had to spend on treating the patient.
“From a money standpoint, if we prevent five infections with this in a year, it will pay for itself,” said Bankert. “But the money aspect was never the issue.”
Government and oversight agencies have come down hard on hospitals and health care systems in recent years, asking that they take more accountability for the infections acquired at their facilities. Last year, Medicaid announced it would stop paying for hospital services that were used to treat preventable, health care-acquired illnesses or injuries.
Xenex account services manager Rachael Sparks believes these developments will cause hospitals to double up their efforts to protect patients from contracting something they never came in for.
Ellis Medicine already ranks lower than the state or national average for health care-acquired illnesses, but having an added measure of defense against them was always in the plan.