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Robots complement the work of humans at Cooley Dickinson

  • Cooley Dickinson Hospital hosts a second birthday party for "Xenex," its UV light-blasting, germ-zapping robot on Wednesday, January 30, 2013. The hospital is considered one of the safest hospitals in the nation and the robot has saved about 10 lives thus far.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Cooley Dickinson Hospital hosts a second birthday party for "Xenex," its UV light-blasting, germ-zapping robot on Wednesday, January 30, 2013. The hospital is considered one of the safest hospitals in the nation and the robot has saved about 10 lives thus far.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Karen Kusekoski, left, Samantha Pierce, Jacklyn Sniadach and Daniel English of the Environmental Services department at Cooley Dickinson Hospital are entertained by English's children Clayton, 7, and Charlotte English, 4, of Holyoke during the second birthday party for "Xenox," the hospital's UV light-blasting, germ-zapping robot. The party was held on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 and celebrated the 10 saved lives that have occurred since the robot began cleaning the hospital.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Karen Kusekoski, left, Samantha Pierce, Jacklyn Sniadach and Daniel English of the Environmental Services department at Cooley Dickinson Hospital are entertained by English's children Clayton, 7, and Charlotte English, 4, of Holyoke during the second birthday party for "Xenox," the hospital's UV light-blasting, germ-zapping robot. The party was held on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 and celebrated the 10 saved lives that have occurred since the robot began cleaning the hospital.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Environmental Science Director Daniel English, left, serves cake to Public Affairs Administrative Assistant Kelly Charest at a party celebrating the second birthday of "Xenex," Cooley Dickinson Hospital's UV light-blasting, germ-zapping robot. The party was held on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 to celebrate the ten estimated lives saved  thus far since the robot started cleaning the hospital.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Environmental Science Director Daniel English, left, serves cake to Public Affairs Administrative Assistant Kelly Charest at a party celebrating the second birthday of "Xenex," Cooley Dickinson Hospital's UV light-blasting, germ-zapping robot. The party was held on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 to celebrate the ten estimated lives saved thus far since the robot started cleaning the hospital.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Samantha Pierce of the Environmental Services department at Cooley Dickinson Hospital turns "Xenex," the hospitals UV light-blasting, germ-zapping robot. A second birthday party was held for the robot on Wednesday, January 30, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Samantha Pierce of the Environmental Services department at Cooley Dickinson Hospital turns "Xenex," the hospitals UV light-blasting, germ-zapping robot. A second birthday party was held for the robot on Wednesday, January 30, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Cooley Dickinson Hospital hosts a second birthday party for "Xenex," its UV light-blasting, germ-zapping robot on Wednesday, January 30, 2013. The hospital is considered one of the safest hospitals in the nation and the robot has saved about 10 lives thus far.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Karen Kusekoski, left, Samantha Pierce, Jacklyn Sniadach and Daniel English of the Environmental Services department at Cooley Dickinson Hospital are entertained by English's children Clayton, 7, and Charlotte English, 4, of Holyoke during the second birthday party for "Xenox," the hospital's UV light-blasting, germ-zapping robot. The party was held on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 and celebrated the 10 saved lives that have occurred since the robot began cleaning the hospital.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Environmental Science Director Daniel English, left, serves cake to Public Affairs Administrative Assistant Kelly Charest at a party celebrating the second birthday of "Xenex," Cooley Dickinson Hospital's UV light-blasting, germ-zapping robot. The party was held on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 to celebrate the ten estimated lives saved  thus far since the robot started cleaning the hospital.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Samantha Pierce of the Environmental Services department at Cooley Dickinson Hospital turns "Xenex," the hospitals UV light-blasting, germ-zapping robot. A second birthday party was held for the robot on Wednesday, January 30, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

In 2013, a small fleet of robots at Cooley Dickinson Hospital is being used to help ensure that law is observed.

Two types of robots are being used by hospital staff to perform tasks both routine and profound, helping to do things from sanitizing rest rooms to improving the precision of delicate surgeries.

These robots, unlike some of their images in popular culture over the years, are not here to replace people or take their jobs, but to complement them and enhance the work they do.

Things one, two and three

The more high-profile robots are a trio of ultraviolet light-spewing mechanical sterilizers which disinfect rooms more effectively and quickly than traditional cleaner.

If the robots have a proper name it’s Portable Pulsed Xenon UV Light or PPX-UV.

Daniel English, director of environmental services at the hospital, said shortly after the units arrived, staff began referring to the robots as “Thing One,” “Thing Two” and “Thing Three,” after the havoc-wreaking imps in “The Cat in the Hat” by Dr. Seuss. The names stuck.

Where those creatures did their best to create a mess, Cooley Dickinson’s “things” do the opposite, quickly bathing rooms in ultraviolet light to clean them at a microscopic level. One of the “things” can be seen frequently in television ads, promoting their use at the hospital.

Dr. Joanne Levin, director of infection prevention at Cooley Dickinson, who appears in the advertising campaign, said the hospital has seen dramatic results in the two years since the robots were brought on board .

Levin said a far-too-common occurrence in all hospitals is patients contracting secondary illnesses while recovering from whatever brought them there in the first place.

One of the most common illnesses is Clostridium difficile, commonly referred to as “C. diff,” which patients are susceptible to during antibiotic treatments. It causes diarrhea, flu-like symptoms and, in extreme cases, can be fatal.

Besides being easily spread, C. diff is also notoriously difficult to kill, Levin said, and is highly resistant to traditional cleaning methods.

After a 2010 conference to discuss enhanced disinfection technology, the hospital weighed its options and decided the ultraviolet light sterilizers would be most effective, she said.

In the past two years, Cooley Dickinson has seen a 53 percent drop in hospital-associated C. diff infections, Levin added.

That can be attributed to the use of the robots, she said, because no other changes were made to cleaning procedures.

In about six minutes a “thing” can clean a patient room by shooting beams of ultraviolet light throughout, reaching areas that other cleaning agents cannot attack.

The ultraviolet light is powerful enough to clean the air in the room by killing odor-causing bacteria.

The robots are used aggressively, English said, to clean as many rooms in the 140-bed hospital in as short amount of time as possible. But there are limitations.

The biggest is that the robots can only be used in empty rooms because exposure to ultraviolet light can be hazardous to humans. It can cause eye and skin damage, including some forms of skin cancer, if the exposure is strong and prolonged enough, English said.

While the “things” are machines that do the work of a person, they still require humans to get them around.

The robots resemble devices used to steam-clean carpets, with wheels and handles on their chassis. Once activated, a “head” with the ultraviolet-generating bulbs rises out of the cabinet and triggers the light show which is not safe to watch.

Levin said Cooley Dickinson leases the robots, which cost about $80,000 each. That cost is more than made up in savings to the hospital in preventing additional medication and testing during longer stays for patients who otherwise would contract other illnesses during their hospitalization.

da Vinci system

Surgeons at Cooley Dickinson have their own high-tech tool to complement the work they do.

The da Vinci surgical system allows them to preform minimally invasive surgery with precision not possible through more traditional techniques.

The system, which costs about $1.8 million, is used mostly for urologic and gynecologic operations. It allows for a much smaller incision, less tissue damage, reduced blood loss and faster recovery time for patients. That means shorter hospital stays, if one is required at all, according to Cooley Dickinson staff.

Mary Beth Chevalier, operating room clinical director at the hospital, said the da Vinci system is appropriate for those procedures because of the small area to work in and the delicate maneuvers required to successfully complete those surgeries.

Sharon Dunn, director of perioperative services at Cooley Dickinson, calls them “Band-Aid” surgeries that are minimally invasive and require little more than a bandage and a short period of rest for recovery.

“The whole goal is to get people better, faster,” Dunn said.

The da Vinci allows for much finer motion and for 360-degree rotation of the grip, while a human hand can only rotate abut half that far.

Fingers of the robot are delicate and the motions they can perform are so precise that a skilled operator can create origami sculptures using the machine. Still, the machine requires operation by a trained surgeon.

Dunn said new surgeons are typically receiving training on da Vinci machines as part of their fellowships, and established surgeons are getting outside training on the devices.

About five or six surgeries a week are performed at Cooley Dickinson using the machine, Chevalier said.

It comes in two parts — a control console, and the robotic section with three arms that have fittings for specialized surgical tools. The console has a binocular viewfinder, similar to a high-quality microscope, finger controls to manipulate the robotic digits, foot pedals, and video screens to provide data and feedback.

Dunn said the machine will not replace human surgeons, but enhances the quality of the work they can do.

“It’s a new day in surgery,” Chevalier added.

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