CANTON — Mercy Medical Center's newest employees aren't afraid of dirty work.

Mercy recently acquired two portable germ-zapping robots. It's the first hospital in Stark County, and one of 25 in Ohio, to use the technology.

The robots make Mercy "an even better, safer hospital," said Interim CEO Paul Hiltz at a demonstration held Thursday.

"These robots are going to take us to a zero infection hospital," he said. "Even one infection in a hospital is too many."

The Mercy Service League, a volunteer and fundraising group that supports the health center, purchased two Xenex LightStrike robots, which cost about $100,000. The hospital also has a portable disinfection pod, which can be used to clean equipment such as wheelchairs, computers and stethoscopes.

How it works

The robots, which look silver boxes when not in use, open up to emit pulsating ultraviolet C light or UVC rays.

They use xenon, an inert gas that is safer than alternatives such as mercury, said Scott Young, a representative of the San Antonio-based Xenex.

The UVC rays are more intense than sunlight. The rays decimate a germs cell wall, deactivating its genetic material and leaving it unable to reproduce or mutate, Young said.

"Anything that's a bacteria, virus or spore that has a cell, we can bust it open," Young said.

According to Mercy, the robots are effective against dangerous pathogens including C. diff, norovirus, influenza, Ebola and MRSA. Xenex boasts that its robots can reduce infection rates by more than 70 percent.

The robot is alone in the room while its working. Though the light emitted by the robots isn't the same as other harmful UV rays, the bright light can hurt your eyes.

Reducing infections

Mercy has been using the robots for about two weeks, focusing on areas where patients are most at-risk for infection, including the intensive care unit, patient rooms, operating rooms, cardiac surgery and cardiac catherization labs.

Hospital staff will continue to clean and disinfect rooms as they normally do. The robots are an enhancement of that practice, said Barbara Yingling, vice president and chief nursing officer.

"There's so many germs in today's society and our health care environment — germs patients have, visitors can bring in, vendors — these germs can be obtained in so many different ways," she said.

It takes a robot about 10 to 15 minutes to disinfect an area. In patient rooms, staff move the robot to different locations to ensure everything is exposed. Staff also regularly disinfect items such as computers with the portable pod.

It's part of Mercy's goal to improve patient safety and maintain a clean environment, said Dan Lane, director of quality and patient safety. "We use this as a final step to help."

Hospitals take infections seriously, especially surgical site infections. A single infection can add $50,000 to the cost of caring for a patient, Yingling said.

"Anything we can do (to prevent infection), we'll do," she said. "We have a low infection rate as it is, but one is one too many."

The hospital is holding an employee contest to name the new additions.