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Cuyahoga Falls -- It felt like a scene from a science fiction movie. As media members and Western Reserve hospital officials stood in an adjacent room and watched through glass, a machine stationed in an operating room began running, its purple lid -- which resembled a flying saucer -- slowly rose, revealing a xenon bulb which emitted Ultraviolet C light to disinfect the room.
The machine is named Violet, a Xenex LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robot that was unveiled and demonstrated by hospital officials in its facility at 1900 23rd St on Feb. 21.
The portable robot is being used to help the hospital reduce the amount of Hospital Acquired Infections by destroying "potentially lethal germs and bacteria lurking in rooms that can pose a risk to patient and employee safety," stated a hospital news release.
The release also noted the robot "is effective against even the most dangerous pathogens, including Clostridium difficile (C. diff), norovirus, influenza, Ebola and MRSA."
Violet will be used to disinfect hospital rooms after a cleaning crew has performed its work, according to Steve Wendland, director of support services and environmental services for the hospital.
Wendland said his staff has used the robot for about six weeks and added the machine will not replace anyone on his staff.
"This does not change anything we do with cleaning," said Wendland. "It's just one extra step of cleaning on top of my staff doing their regular cleaning to give it that extra level of disinfection."
The robot has been used in the ER, infusion, ORs and patient rooms, said Wendland, who noted it can be used in any room that is vacant.
The robot costs more than $100,000, but Scott Young, business development manager for Xenex Germ-Zapping Robots, based in San Antonio, was quick to note the cost of Hospital Acquired Infections "is very expensive and obviously very deadly."
"[By] avoiding a few infections, the robot pays for itself in a very short amount of time," said Young. "Western Reserve obviously has a very low infection rate, so going above and beyond what they're already doing and being proactive on the front end of that shows their commitment to making it a safer environment."
Young said the robot has a pulsed xenon bulb flashing 67 times per second that emits "a very intense, bright" Ultraviolet C light "over a broad spectrum and bathe(s) the room in light." This type of light never gets to earth and is blocked by the ozone layer, according to Young.
"It's effective at deactivating these pathogens because the germs have never seen Ultraviolet C before," said Young.
Ultraviolet light has been used for disinfection "for decades," the hospital's news release stated.
Wendland said Ultraviolet C light "actually has a very negative effect on your body. Think of it as a sun tan times 100 in about 30 seconds. You don't want to be in the same room [with the robot as it emits the light]."
Wendland added the light "will not penetrate through glass" so people attending the media event could safely watch the demonstration in an adjacent room.
During the day, the robot will be used in patient discharge rooms; in the evening, it will be used to clean operating rooms, according to Young. In the early morning hours, Violet will help clean areas of the emergency department.
The robot is operated in a room more than once because the light only cleans what it visibly hits, according to Young, who also noted the air is disinfected in the process.
Though no on else has been hired yet, Wendland noted he could use additional staff members "to effectively use [the robot] as much as we can get out of it."
Wendland said he can track how many times the robot was used in a room and who used it. Since the robot will typically emit the light for a five-minute period, an employee can clean another room while the machine is operating.
A staff member puts Violet in a room and, once the machine is activated, it will take 20 seconds for the light to be emitted. The employee has that time to exit the room before the machine begins its work. Motion sensors will shut down the robot if a door to a room being cleaned is opened, according to Wendland.
Dr. Rick Gemma, general surgeon at Western Reserve Hospital, said that having the robot "brings a whole other level of comfort" to a physician when he or she speaks with a patient before going into surgery.
"I think we're a little bit ahead of the game [on fighting infections]," said Gemma.
He noted being able to "eradicate" C. diff and MRSA is "a huge impact."
The robot is in more than 400 hospitals in the United States. Western Reserve Hospital is the 17th hospital in the state and the second in Summit County to use a Xenex robot. Akron General Hospital has the machine, said Young.