Henry Ford Uses Germ-Fighting Robots to Combat COVID-19 in Hospital Rooms

December 11, 2020

DETROIT (December 11, 2020) – A new generation of state-of-the-art disinfecting robots are giving the Henry Ford Health System cleaning staff a technological hand in the fight against COVID-19 by using the power of light.

Henry Ford currently uses 20 Xenex LightStrike ™ germ-killing robots across its system, including one that will assist cleaning staff at the new Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion opening next month. Henry Ford was one of the first two health systems in the U.S. to deploy the Xenex UV technology robots across its hospitals in 2016.

“I love the robots, they’re my babies and part of our team,” said Jennifer Ritz, R.N., Director of Environmental Services at Henry Ford Hospital. “That’s why the robots all have names, we treat them like an extension of our team members.”

Although the robots have been affectionately branded with names like Zappy, Germin8or, Apollo, Brigitte, Ripley, Flash and Lamont they serve a very serious role in the fight to reduce the spread of COVID-19. The germ-zapping robots emit ultraviolet lights that destroy deadly microorganisms and help reduce infection rates in patients and healthcare workers.

This germ-control technology is not new to the System, but it has taken on a new role in combating the coronavirus.  More health systems and major airports across the country have invested in the UV robotic disinfection approach since the start of the pandemic to more thoroughly and efficiently sanitize, public high-contact areas. The robots have proven effective as an addition to the CDC infection control protocols by more than 40 peer-reviewed studies on reductions of pathogens on surfaces. The robot’s disinfection cycle eliminates 99.99% of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

“Our leadership at Henry Ford Health System has put their support behind the program for years,” said Ritz who previously served as the manager of regulatory infection control quality at Henry Ford Hospital and understands the important role the robots play in fighting infection. “Leadership values the enhanced safety measure the robots provide that ensures our facilities are properly disinfected to protect our patients and staff.”

The UV robots are also an integral part of Henry Ford’s Promise throughout the pandemic, a commitment to providing the safest, highest quality experience possible.

The machines are truly an extension of the Environmental Services (EVS) staff who operate them to thoroughly disinfect vital patient care areas throughout the hospital. When activated, the robot sends pulses of UV-C light beams that reach every surface of the room and eliminate germs by unraveling and destroying their cell structure.

Studies have shown that not all hard-to-reach surfaces in a typical hospital room are disinfected with standard cleaning techniques. The robots help reduce the risk of infection by destroying microscopic germs that may be missed during the manual cleaning process. Since their introduction, data trends show that the robots have helped to lower hospital-acquired infections nationally.

Henry Ford EVS employees manually clean and disinfect patient rooms according to CDC recommendations and best practices. The cleaning crew then brings in the robot to perform the additional UV light system disinfection treatment that eliminates potentially harmful bacteria and viruses from every surface, nook and cranny not visible to the human eye. On average, one robot can disinfect up to 15 rooms in an 8-hour shift.

Disinfection cycle time depends on the size of the room. A standard inpatient room typically requires three cycles lasting 5 minutes each and target the two sides of a room plus the restroom. An ICU room requires two cycles of 5 minutes each while an operating room can take two cycles of 10 minutes each, depending on its size. Each day, the EVS team uses the robots to clean and disinfect patient and operating rooms, labor and delivery and ICU rooms, and isolation discharge rooms.

“We have a standard operating procedure for each facility, depending on room types that tell us exactly how many cycles are required in each room,” said Ritz. “When a room has been cleaned and disinfected by human hands and the robot, our team members leave a card to reassure new patients and staff that it is a clean and safe environment for them.”

The EVS team also uses the robots for “terminal cleaning” of hospital units during the pandemic. For instance, units that may have previously cared for COVID-19 patients receive a complete stripped-down cleaning which ensures the unit is made safe for new non-COVID patients. “The patient rooms are taken down to the bare bones, they’re cleaned and disinfected by our team, and then we put them back together,” said Ritz.

The robots are also supported by Henry Ford’s Clinical Engineering Department when repairs and maintenance are needed. Biomedical equipment technicians are trained and certified by the robot’s manufacturer to troubleshoot and keep the machines working properly.

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Related Story: Henry Ford Health System surgeon, Lamont Jones, M.D., wanted to do more to help his healthcare colleagues during the pandemic surge in the Spring that delayed his elective surgery patients. That’s when Dr. Jones, Vice Chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery, decided to roll up his sleeves and help out on the Environmental Services frontlines and help clean inpatient rooms at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital. Dr. Jones also recruited his physician colleagues to help clean hospital rooms and as a team, they covered about 100 shifts for their EVS colleagues. Dr. Jones was recognized for his efforts by the EVS staff at the hospital who named their disinfection robot “Lamont” in honor of Dr. Jones.

About Henry Ford Health System

Founded in 1915 by Henry Ford himself, Henry Ford Health System is a non-profit, integrated health system committed to improving people’s lives through excellence in the science and art of healthcare and healing. Henry Ford Health System includes six hospitals including Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit; Henry Ford Macomb Hospitals; Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital; Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital; Henry Ford Allegiance in Jackson, MI; and Henry Ford Kingswood Hospital – an inpatient psychiatric hospital.

Henry Ford Health System also includes Henry Ford Medical Group: Henry Ford Physician Network; more than 250 outpatient facilities; Henry Ford Pharmacy; Henry Ford OptimEyes; and other healthcare services. Our not-for-profit health plan, Health Alliance Plan – HAP – provides health coverage for more than 540,000 people.

As one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers, Henry Ford Health System trains more than 3,000 medical students, residents, and fellows annually in more than 50 accredited programs, and has trained nearly 40% of the state’s physicians. Our dedication to education and research is supported by nearly $100 million in annual grants from the National Institutes of Health and other public and private foundations.

Henry Ford Health System employs more than 33,000 people, including more than 1,600 physicians, more than 6,600 nurses and 5,000 allied health professionals. For more information, go to henryford.com.

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MEDIA CONTACT: Sal Giacona / sgiacon1@hfhs.org / 313-421-9108