By Emily Foxhall
9:58 PM PDT, October 4, 2013
Sadie only needs five minutes to disinfect a hospital room at Hoag Orthopedic Institute.
She does not require rags or soaps. She's not a super-maid. Rather, Sadie is a new germ-zapping robot — the first of her kind to be purchased in Orange County.
The Xenex Pulsed Xenon UV Disinfection System, introduced by the Irvine hospital in September with the name "Sadie" labeled on her side, is part of an ongoing effort at the institute to reduce infection rates.
"This is kind of the silver bullet that gets everything," said Stephen Huff, the sales director for the product in Southern California. "It's an added layer of security."
Each night, after staff members finish their regular cleaning rounds, a worker wheels Sadie from operating room to operating room. The worker positions the robot in the space, turns it on and exits as a safety precaution while it begins to warm up.
Soon a column covered in dark purple panels extends upward about two feet from the top of the machine.
UV light begins to pulse from behind the darkened panels. The robot emits popping noises and purple flashes amid a low hum.
The bursts of light come from a bulb filled with xenon gas, making it a germicidal light that kills nearly all harmful bacteria in the room.
Eliminating these pathogens helps decrease the chance of patient infection. Microorganisms that can cause serious illness, such as Clostridium difficile bacteria and MRSA, an antibiotic-resistant staphylococcus bacteria, will be zapped.
The robot goes through two cycles, each time from an opposite position in the room, to ensure that it eliminates as many germs as possible. Workers may flip over TV remotes and pillows in between cycles to expose the various surfaces.
Preventing infection proves especially important for those who undergo orthopedic surgery, because plastic and metal implants can't fight infection as bone can, said Dr. Robert Gorab, the chief medical officer at the Institute.
"Infections after surgery can be devastating. They're very traumatic to the patient and the family," he said. "They're expensive"
Gorab outlined precautions that are taken to minimize infection rates at the Institute. Already, patients wipe themselves down with a special cleaning cloth before they come into the hospital. A heated pad wrapped around them during surgery helps regulate body temperature in the often chilly operating rooms. Special airflow units circulate particles away from the operating tables as doctors work.
All of this helps to keep patients healthy. The hospital's overall rate for "surgical site infections," or infections related to surgery that occur within 30 days of an operation or one year of an implant procedure, was 0.42% for fiscal year 2012, according to its annual report.
And now Sadie, the 3-foot tall robot on wheels, is helping too.
"Our rates are really low, and we want to keep them even lower," said Matt Hopkins, the assistant manager of environmental and support services.
The machine costs $120,000, which includes three years of maintenance service, Huff said. Gorab hopes to soon use the machine regularly in all patient rooms, in addition to the operating rooms.