PLAINS TWP. — While a January outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease in Pittsburgh has many concerned with hospital cleanliness, officials at the area’s veterans hospital say patients there can rely on new technology to ensure a clean and healthy environment.
The Wilkes-Barre Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center has invested nearly $1 million in Intelligent Room Sterilization, known as IRiS, recently purchasing eight devices that produce high-intensity ultraviolet rays that aid in the disinfection of patient rooms and treatment areas by killing multidrug-resistant organisms.
Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center spokesman Matt Van Stone said Geisinger recently invested in similar UV machines at its hospitals. Commonwealth Health Systems spokesman Jim McGuire said Wilkes-Barre General does not have UV disinfecting machines and there are no immediate plans to invest in them.
Bruce Brenner, director of public affairs at the Wilkes-Barre VA, said it’s important for hospitals to have machines like IRiS because it reduces the risk of a patient contracting a disease from another patient.
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reported that 1 in 20 patients contract infections during hospital stays, many due to “superbugs” which can be difficult to treat.
VA Medical Centers have come under congressional scrutiny after an outbreak of Legionnaire’s Disease at a veterans hospital in Pittsburgh in January.
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey has introduced legislation that would require Veterans Affairs Medical Centers across the state to report incidences of infectious diseases to the appropriate public health officials. Casey noted in a press release that appropriate health agencies were not informed after the outbreak in Pittsburgh.
WIlkes-Barre VA spokesman Vince Riccardo said that outbreak did not spur local hospital officials to purchase the eight machines here, which cost the hospital a total of $952,000.
“We’ve had this effort going on for a period of time. It’s part of our continual process of enhancing and improving the quality of our patient care,” Riccardo said.
The manual cleaning process significantly reduces the amount of hospital-acquired infections that could occur, said LeVonn Anderson, chief of eEnvironmental management at the VA, but IRIS takes it to the next level of disinfecting.
“The UV lights get into nooks and crannies to disinfect. Hands can’t get into cracks and corners like IRIS,” Anderson said.
‘Big bug zapper’
Standing 5 feet tall and 2 feet in diameter, the device, Brenner says, resembles a “big bug zapper.”
A machine is wheeled to the center of a room and operated from outside the room using a remote control. It emits a laser light that shines on all surfaces and bounces back to the machine, allowing the computer inside to send appropriate power levels to each of the 32 UV lightbulbs encircling the core of the machine.
Higher levels of UV light are sent to parts of the room the greatest distance from the machine.
Brenner said the VA had experienced issues after routine manual cleaning of patient rooms. The disinfectants could not kill all of these multidrug-resistant organisms. When swabs were taken of the room after these manual cleanings, the results showed that there was growth in the samples overnight, meaning not all of the organisms were gone from the room.
That’s when, Brenner said, a first-generation version of IRIS was tested at the VA to see how thoroughly it could disinfect a room. After the machine had finished cleaning the room, swabs were taken from the bed frame, tables, cabinets and other surface and hard-to-reach areas of the room to be incubated in a lab overnight to see if any growth had occurred.
“After we saw the evidence of what the machine could do with the post-machine cultures and the fact that it had no growth, that’s when the beacon went off that this is a nice machine,” said Brenner.
The VAMC just became home to the second generation of IRIS, which is faster and stays plugged into a wall outlet while charging its battery on board, cutting down on the time between cleanings and getting patients into their rooms faster.
“We are continuing to strive to improve the facilities and (provide) better care for our veterans,” Brenner said.