Xenex robot zaps germs, spreads cheer at Children's Hospital

The Fresno BeeMarch 3, 2014 

A Xenex robot is on a mission at Children's Hospital Central California to disinfect rooms and rid them of multi-dangerous spores.

It also spreads good cheer with the kids and parents visiting the hospital.

Who doesn't like a robot doing good work?

Standing about 31/2-feet tall when its top section lifts up, the robot emits chemical-free UV light to eliminate harmful bacteria and viruses.

The UV light is rapid fire — 450 wave-lengths per minute — and purplish in color.

Kids passing by the rooms being cleaned hear the pulses — like the tapping of raindrops on a tin roof — and get all excited. Parents and hospital workers can't help but conjure up thoughts of Hollywood movie characters like R2-D2 and C-3PO.

"It pulsates light out — kind of like a 'Star Wars' area," says Marsha Meyer, the hospital's infection prevention manager.

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The UV disinfection system has been used in the food and water industries for the past five to 10 years. With newer technology and refinement, the Xenex robots now are emerging in health care. They cost $80,000.

Children's Hospital Central California started using the robot in September, wanting to ensure protection for patients. High-risk areas, such as pediatric intensive care and neonatal intensive care, are becoming more challenging to clean.

The robot serves as "backup" to the housekeeping staff, which cleans 800 to 1,200 beds per month.

"With tougher organisms in hospitals these days, it adds to not missing anything," Meyer says. "This is icing on the cake."

Here's how the robot works:

Hospital workers post a sign outside the room to be cleaned: "Caution. Pulse UV light. Do not enter."

The curtains are pulled for safety.

Then, the robot works in three cycles. It is set up in one location in the room. Then, another. Finally, it goes to work in the restroom. In each area, it turns 360 degrees, sending out the UV light.

If someone accidentally walks into the room, a heat-and-motion sensor shuts off the robot.

In 15 to 30 minutes, the mission is done.

"It's more efficient," says Emmanuel Alvarado, assistant director of environmental services. "It's a quicker turnaround time."

Housekeeping staff members feel good about the robot.

"It's pretty cool," says Brenda Pulido, who is on the housekeeping staff. "It's killing germs.

"And it's nice for the kids."

She says kids at the Craycroft Cancer Center stop in their tracks when they hear the sound the robot makes.

"They're riding on their bikes, stop and look at the light," she says. "Their parents say, 'Come on.' And they won't go."

At Christmas time, housekeeping dolled up the robot with Santa caps, Rudolph red noses and elf hats.

"It's part of the family," Alvarado says.

Parents say it is important that the hospital uses the latest technology to ensure patients are protected.

Tere Earl of Shaver Lake was at Children's Hospital on a recent day with her son, Briar Begrin, 14, who has cancer. He was preparing for five days of chemotherapy.

"It's scary — germs are everywhere," Earl says. "You can only do so much for our kids with compromised immune systems. Anything they can do to keep them less at risk is good. A cold to (Briar) is a 10-day hospital stay.

"You can only be a 'germaphobic' so much. When you see a sign that a room is being treated, you rest a little easier."


The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6304 or rorozco@fresnobee.com.

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