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Columbia Business Monthly

Robots emitting UV light used to combat deadly coronavirus

Jun 18, 2020 10:45AM ● By David Dykes
By Liv Osby

Scientists have long known that ultraviolet light can kill germs that make us sick.

Now Bon Secours St. Francis Health System is employing robots that emit UV light to combat the deadly coronavirus at its hospitals.

The LightStrike Germ-Zapping Robots destroy bacteria, viruses, mold and funguses using pulsed xenon, an inert gas that generates UV light to disinfect surfaces in the hospital environment, said Robert Davis, head
 of guest services and environmental services at the hospital system. 

Once deployed, the top pops up and emits UV light, flashing at a rate of a few times a second, he said.Reminiscent of the Star Wars character R2-D2, the robots are on wheels and can be rolled into any space, from patient rooms and operating rooms to waiting rooms and lobbies, he told Greenville Business Magazine.

“Even if something looks clean, that doesn’t mean on a microscopic level it is clean,” Davis said. “It is wonderful to be able to add an extra layer of protection.” 

The coronavirus is highly contagious.

And with the number of cases on the rise, Greenville was recently designated a hot spot, according to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.

Greenville County had 3,072 confirmed cases and 69 deaths as of June 15, and there were nearly 20,000 confirmed cases and 607 deaths statewide, DHEC reports.

The agency projects there could be 2,853 deaths by Oct. 1.

Statewide, about 71 percent of hospital beds were used as of June 17, DHEC spokeswoman Laura Renwick said. 

Of the 7,411 inpatient beds in use, 607 were occupied by patients who have either tested positive or are under investigation for Covid-19, she said.

St. Francis has one robot at its Eastside campus and one downtown, Davis said. Hospital officials say that St. Francis is the first system in the Upstate to have the technology.

Hospital staffers are able to test surfaces after the robots have disinfected rooms, he said.

“The test measures the amount of living organisms on any surface,” he said. “We test it … and see that all the germs have been killed.”

Davis said the robots don’t replace existing infection control measures, but add to them.

They can also kill other hospital-acquired infections, including superbugs like deadly Clostridium difficile, E. coli and MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Thus, they can save lives and money, he said.

It takes about 15 minutes to clean a room, Davis said, and each robot can disinfect dozens of rooms a day.

“These robots are in over 500 facilities around the world,” he said. “Early on in the pandemic, they were shipping them to hospitals in Italy to help fight coronavirus.”

The robots are manufactured by Xenex Disinfection Services of San Antonio, Texas, which uses technology to fight hospital-acquired infections.

They cost around $100,000 each,
 St. Francis spokeswoman Jennifer Robinson said. One was made possible through a donation from a benefactor in the community while the other was purchased by the hospital, she said.

The robots increase patient safety as well as the safety of staff, who come into contact with many hospital surfaces, Davis said.

“To be able to have this technology here in Greenville,” he said, “it’s a valuable tool.”

Bon Secours St. Francis Health System is part of Bon Secours Mercy Health, the fifth largest Catholic health system in the nation with hospitals in Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, Ohio and Virginia, as well as South Carolina.


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