The Milwaukee VA Medical Center has a new weapon against invisible critters that can spread infection, illness or even death – a purple and silver robot about the size of a trash can that looks like R2D2 and obliterates the buggers with 67 pulses of ultraviolet light per second.

Meet Xena and Thor – two germ-zapping robots added to Milwaukee’s cleaning and infection control procedures to ensure better health and safety for Veterans and employees.

VA put the machines into action this summer after holding a “Name the Robots” contest among employees. Milwaukee is the first VA hospital in this region to use the robots.

The portable devices, manufactured by Xenex, are the only mercury-free systems available and kill numerous micro-organisms in about 15 minutes.

No Unnecessary Hazardous Chemicals

“This basically takes cleaning to the next level,” said Jai Reneau, Environmental Management Services division manager. “We already do a good job of cleaning, but even with the best cleaning there will always be germs that can’t be seen by the naked eye. We chose this system because it doesn’t introduce unnecessary hazardous chemicals to the hospital, and it has a very good success rate.”

Typically, after a room is manually cleaned by human hands, the robots take over. Housekeepers wheel it into position, put up orange safety cones, press a button then leave the room. The robot head rises in the air, then attacks the room with bright pulses of UV-C light. The machines are safe for humans, but you can’t look directly at the light.

The light isn’t the same as a tanning bed. Instead of giving bacteria a suntan, it scrambles their DNA.

“It actually exerts enough pressure to open the bacterial cell wall, scrambles the DNA and makes the bacteria inert,” said Gaylyn Raduenz, a registered nurse and infection preventionist. “Then the bacteria can’t reproduce and it can’t infect someone.”

“You can’t put a price on the health and well-being of our Veterans.”

Studies show the treatment lowers infection rates 20 to 50 percent, but Milwaukee officials won’t know local results for about six months.

The robots will mostly be used in the Spinal Cord Injury Center, Community Living Center and other hospital areas where there is a higher risk of infection because of the type of care provided.

Raduenz said hospital infection rates are already lower than national benchmarks, but this takes safety a step further.

Each machine costs about $92,000 and Raduenz says it’s money well spent.

“You can’t put a price on the health and well-being of our Veterans,” Raduenz says. “Our Veterans deserve the absolute best we can provide. That’s priceless.”

This story was originally published on Inside Veterans Health.

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Published on Oct. 22, 2015

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6 Comments

  1. Genius H. Kennard October 25, 2015 at 1:19 pm

    Very simple idea that i have, how about hiring interns to clean the facility with Lysol 99.9% and a touch of bleach.
    They will probably save $91,000 for 5 years because i know the VA could get cleaning products wholesale or better
    yet below wholesale! I sure could use my disability benefits that i have been waiting now for 6 long a$$ years.

  2. Gene Decker October 23, 2015 at 10:38 am

    I have been receiving all of my healthcare from The Milwaukee VA for years. I rate the care I receive as good as the care my spouse receives from the Non-VA facilities in the area.
    The implementation of this new technology helps in keeping the VA on par and perhaps ahead of the other facilities in our area.

  3. carol rings October 23, 2015 at 8:53 am

    Beiong in the healthcare and with my loved ones being vetern’s I know how bad these bugs are!! Some live on surfaces for weeks after a patient is discharged. Would you really put family in a room that you knew had the potential of infecting them?? Remember that these nasty BUGS are not visible to the naked eye and can potentially kill someonne who is sick! I say KUDOS VA for all you do!!!!!!!!

  4. Susan Powers October 22, 2015 at 10:52 pm

    As many problems & needs that the VA has and your spending the money on robots that cost $92,000 a piece. Unbelievable! This is one of the reasons why people get so irked at how the Va is run.

    • James Eric Zirkelbach October 23, 2015 at 7:33 am

      Technology rocks. Time will tell. Give it a chance. Money well spent if it saves lives.

    • Tom Hanson October 23, 2015 at 4:34 pm

      Susan, I’m not from Virginia (Va) and don’t know how Virginia is run, but 92 grand for a robot that will destroy bacteria seems to this old veteran to be money well spent. I use the VA (Veteran’s Administration) for most of my medical care, but not all. It can still be improved and should be, but I don’t think this is any part of the problem.

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