Increasing Infection Prevention in the Navajo Nation With UV-C Robots


Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the infection prevention field had to think outside the box they were used to. The Navajo Nation was no different. Outside their box, they found UV-C robots.

In this second installment of a 3-installment series, Infection Control Today® (ICT®) speaks with managers at Sage Memorial Hospital, Navajo Health Foundation in Ganado, Arizona, about their infection prevention and control program’s decision to incorporate a UV-C robot. Christian Bigwater, BSBA, director of public relations and marketing; and Tiyarra Wauneka, environmental services supervisor, discuss which product they chose, how it has changed their protocols, and the Navajo names they gave their robots and why.

The facility follows its Navajo Nation’s values: “The mission of Sage Memorial Hospital is to provide quality healthcare for the Dine people with respect, unity, beauty, and harmony in honor of K‘é an, the sacredness of life,” according to the hospital’s website.

The first installment of this 3-part series is here.

ICT: The one thing about infection prevention and control is that it doesn't stop for borders of any kind. So I know you have those issues, too. You're constantly trying to stop infections from spreading or even starting, and one piece of equipment that you are using in your hospital are they are the robots, the UVC robots. Please explain those a little bit and tell our audience why you chose them and how you use them.

Tiyarra Waunkea: I will give a quick backstory of why we went into getting the UVI robots. When the pandemic started, the Navajo Nation was hit hard with COVID-19. And it wiped out a lot of our community members, unfortunately, because we were not prepared as a nation, for that kind of pandemic. And for those kinds of pathogens to come through our area. And like I said, it was hard to reach out to a lot of those people who are in rural areas. We were one of the many health care facilities in our location that stayed open throughout the entire pandemic. At no point did we close any of our services down; we constantly had a 24/7 emergency room that ran throughout the entire pandemic; there were some other health care facilities around this [time] that had closed for a few days to a few weeks because they were not ready for that kind of pandemic to happen and to give the treatment and the services that they needed.

UV-C Robots by OhmniLabs.  (Photo from OhmniLabs website.)

UV-C Robots by OhmniLabs.

(Photo from OhmniLabs website.)

We saw a high number of cases of COVID-19, come through our emergency department, and we had a lot of staffing [who] contracted COVID-19. On a larger level, our staffing was really affected by it. That's when I came on as a supervisor. I worked closely with our infection preventionists to find ways to take precautions and better approach everything that was happening around us. I looked and researched other bigger facilities down south. So, I contacted one of the banner hospitals in Phoenix, Arizona. I was talking to them, and I said I'm concerned. And I have a couple of questions. What do you guys do differently? We collaborated on our protocols and the things that we did with COVID testing, terminal cleanings, patient discharge, how we were taking care of those things, and what our protocols were.

I asked them, “Do you guys use any innovative technology. Is there anything that you guys use differently?” Because at the time, we were using [are called] the Clorox 360 machines, which is an electrostatic sprayer. And I said, “That's the only thing that we've been able to bring into our facility to try and help us provide the disinfection that needs to be done.”

They said, “We've been looking into some UV lightings. We haven't gotten there yet, but we have a company that we're looking into, which is called OhmniLabs And I said, “If you can send me whatever you have, I'm more than happy to go look into it and see what they're all about.”

From that point, I made contact with one of the representatives from OhmniClean, and his name was Dan. And we kicked it off, as soon as I made contact with him. And we started talking, I looked [previously] at some other vendors, and he gave me some other vendors with similar products. We did our research and what worked best for our facility, and that's what brought us to using UV lighting. Then I found out that just off the reservation in Gallup, New Mexico is very close to where we live, and there is the Gallup Indian Medical Center. They were implementing the UV robots from OhmniLabs. I asked him, “I'm interested in that same product. Can I come and do an onsite visit, and I want to see what these robots are capable of doing [to see] if they would be something we would be interested in bringing into our facility as well.”

I did that onsite visit, and we saw the robots in action. They use them in their surgical unit. And I was like, this is just a great product. I was blown away by the disinfection efficiency that was provided by it and how simple it was to operate the UV robots because it's a step-by-step protocol that you follow on the screen. And it was, it was easy. And that's what I liked about the OmniLab UV robot. It struck my attention….And, lo and behold, we have 3 robots that we currently use in our facility.

ICT: the UV-C has helped you. Do you have any general idea of how [many health care-acquired infections] you have reduced in your facility?

TW: Yes, UVC robots have definitely helped us in addition to our protocols currently in place with our standard cleaning. We have various ways that we're trying to test the efficiency of the UVC robots. One of the ways that we've done that is we have a machine from 3M called the ATP Luminator. That's the adenosine triphosphate.

When we run the robots through a room, we will take a swab before and get the reading from it. What the ATP machine does is collect all the bacteria from that surface, and you put it into the machine, and it reflects the light back with whatever bacteria or pathogen is left on that surface. It'll give you a real-time number value of what's there. Our goal is to get anything below 1000 [pathogens]. And so we'll take this swab before we run the UVC. After we've done a standard clean, and we take the number, we'll do our UVC run through with our robots, and then we take another swab again. And that's how we're able to compare how efficiently and how much bacteria and pathogens were taken away from that surface. That's one of the ways that we've been able to measure the efficiency of the UVC robots.

That data will then be provided back to OhmniLabs so that they can use it to their benefit as well and make the needed adjustments to increase their software and to increase their product. I've been working closely with OhmniLabs to get that kind of data for them.

This transcript has been edited for clarity.

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