By Amanda Sangster - November 03, 2021
A community finds creative solutions to address infection prevention
In late 2020, Moffitt Cancer Center welcomed two UVD Robots® to its Magnolia Campus. The result of a generous donation by Gallo Medical Company, and facilitated by the Payton Wright Foundation, these robots bring cutting-edge technology to the center. What started as a simple idea to improve infection prevention standards evolved into a collaborative effort to enhance patient safety during a pandemic.
“This is really a story about a community coming together for the greater good,” said Christine Gallo, CEO of Gallo Medical Company. “In times like these, you have to get creative in supporting each other. That’s what we did.”
FROM PAINFUL LOSS TO REINVENTION
Nearly nine years ago, Kevin Potts was diagnosed with brain cancer. He traveled the country seeking out expert opinions to receive the best possible care.
As Potts underwent intensive treatments, his wife, Christine Gallo, slept on a cot in his various hospital rooms for more than a year. She remained by her husband’s side as he battled not only brain cancer, but hospital-acquired pneumonia, Legionnaires’ disease and a staph infection. Feeling like they were fighting an uphill battle against preventable infections, Gallo began to wonder what could be improved.
“When you spend so much time in a place like that, there were critical areas that began to stand out to me,” said Gallo. “One of the areas that really bothered me was infection prevention. I kept thinking to myself that we must do better — we must find better technology. If your air and environment aren’t the best, how are you going to get better?”
When her husband was in the intensive care unit near the end of his journey, they began talking about how they could find better technology to address these issues. A robotics engineer himself, Potts wondered about technology that could purify and filter infections from the air. In those final moments, Gallo decided to change the direction of her medical supply company.
Emerging from the loss of her husband in 2014, Gallo was determined to reinvent her company’s mission. She diverted all her energy and resources toward infection prevention. Now, Gallo’s only goal is to create environments where patients can heal without the fear of infection.
She launched a division within her company specifically dedicated to infection prevention. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, she realized she wanted to grow this division and work only with suppliers that were interested in improving patient experience — not just increasing their profits at a time when families needed access to safe medical care.
Looking to expand what her company could offer in terms of infection prevention and on the hunt for the best technology on the market, Gallo discovered UVD Robots®, a Danish company that developed the first prototype of the ultraviolet (UV) disinfection robot. Gallo’s company was the first to bring this kind of autonomous technology overseas to the United States, and one of her first stops in delivering this technology was Moffitt Cancer Center.
“I just knew this product would change the landscape of health care,” said Gallo. “I began wondering how we could give back as a company and thought about how great it would be if we could raise enough money to donate this technology to a hospital in need.”
After finding generous benefactors, Gallo was able to secure the donation through the Payton Wright Foundation, a local organization dedicated to assisting families who have children being treated for brain and spinal cord malignancies. She already had deep connections with them through her own fundraising for brain cancer. Now all she needed was a hospital.
Fortunately, Moffitt was already at the forefront of Gallo’s mind for two reasons. First, the center previously had reached out about purchasing the equipment long before COVID-19 took hold of the world. Second, both of Gallo’s parents are patients at Moffitt. And like many other patients, both canceled their routine appointments out of fear of COVID-19.
“As a company, we have a soft spot for cancer,” said Gallo. “Everyone on my team has experienced it personally. We’ve always been looking for a great impact to make, but this just came together organically. It was a full collaboration, and the timing was perfect. And it all started with just a text message I sent to Jay Wright on Giving Tuesday.”
Jay Wright is the director of Moffitt’s Department of Supply Chain. His team is responsible for sourcing Moffitt’s equipment and supplies. Always looking 10 steps ahead, Wright contacted Gallo Medical Company long before the pandemic in search of this same autonomous, robotic technology.
“The autonomous units just make it so much easier to protect our patients,” said Wright. “At the time I first approached Gallo Medical Company looking for these robots, no one knew the pandemic was going to hit. We just knew this was the direction we wanted to go in.” However, due to budget constraints at the time, Moffitt had to put the purchase on hold.
But Gallo didn’t forget about Wright or Moffitt’s readiness to take infection prevention to the next level.
“The autonomous units just make it so much easier to protect our patients.”
The Tuesday following Thanksgiving is a holiday known as Giving Tuesday. Directly following Black Friday when Americans are encouraged to spend money, Giving Tuesday encourages people to give to their favorite charities and perform acts of service. It was on Giving Tuesday of 2020 that Gallo texted Wright out of the blue. Hopeful that Moffitt was still interested in this technology, Gallo asked Wright if the cancer center would accept the donation.
Moffitt immediately seized the opportunity. “Gallo could have chosen any other hospital, but she chose Moffitt because of her connection to cancer,” said Wright. “To me, it really shows the community looking out for one another. I truly believe in my heart of hearts that Gallo Medical Company was trying to do what was best for us.”
What quickly ensued was a coordinated effort with Moffitt and Gallo Medical Company to get the robots on-site. Teams across the center including Facilities, Supply Chain, Environmental Services and Infection Prevention quickly mobilized to expedite the process and ensure the robots would be in working order as soon as possible.
The only costs to Moffitt would be the training and programming of the robots, but Gallo Medical Company made sure that came free as well. Sales Engineer Mike Price and Senior Product Specialist Phil Hughes both lost their own fathers to brain cancer. When it came time to quote these additional services, they also donated their time and labor — making this donation truly a gift to Moffitt.
Within a few short months, two UVD Robots® arrived on Moffitt’s Magnolia Campus, ready to be put to work. There was still one final decision to make, though. The robots needed names.
MEET TOM 1 AND JEAN 2
Gallo’s parents are both patients at Moffitt. Her father, Tom, has been treated for low-grade lymphoma and kidney cancer for nearly 15 years. Moffitt cleared her mother, Jeanne, of a misdiagnosis for breast cancer over a year ago. Like many other patients, both Tom and Jeanne delayed their annual visits, fearful that being in a hospital could lead to contracting COVID-19.
This was one of the reasons Gallo reached out to Moffitt when she had the donation ready. In honor of her parents, the robots were named Tom 1 and Jean 2.
The robots are currently programmed to disinfect Moffitt’s operating rooms, pre-operative rooms, the Bone Marrow Transplant clinic, various waiting areas, post-anesthesia care units and clinical exam rooms. But Tom 1 and Jean 2 are learning to clean new spaces every day.
Teamed up with Moffitt’s Environmental Services Lead Carlos Irizarry, Price can still be found wandering the halls of Moffitt every week searching for new and uncharted territory to map for the robots.
Currently, the robots are controlled through tablets and led toward their designated sites manually. Eventually, the robots will be fully autonomous, traveling through Moffitt unattended, on their own schedule, and able to arrive at their designated locations without any staff assistance.
Patients and visitors shouldn’t worry about crossing paths with the robots. They have built-in sensors and cameras that can detect human beings, meaning that Tom 1 and Jean 2 will maneuver around someone and will never expose an unprotected person to the UV radiation they emit.
However, people are bound to hear the robots before they ever see them traveling down the halls. The robots also play music from playlists still to be determined.
THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE LIGHT
At Moffitt, ultraviolet technology is used by a variety of teams. Research labs use it to decontaminate their water supply for experiments, while the Department of Environmental Services has used UV lamps to sterilize and disinfect surfaces. At the beginning of the pandemic, the majority of Moffitt’s UV disinfectant equipment was reassigned to a new purpose: disinfecting N-95 masks for reuse as the national medical supply chains crippled under demand.
The science behind industrial UV disinfection has been in use for nearly a century. Although COVID-19 only recently brought ready-to-purchase, “germicidal” UV lamps to the endcaps of local stores, the technology first became commercially available in the 1930s. Since then, it’s been used across a variety of industries for decontamination, including water treatment plants and air conditioning units.
UV radiation is a natural, chemical-free decontaminant with the most common form being sunlight. Using robotics, UV radiation is re-created using artificial sources like lamps and lasers, specifically the shortest wavelengths called UVC rays. In the natural environment, UVC rays never penetrate beyond the atmosphere’s ozone layer.
When the DNA of a cell absorbs UVC rays, the energy causes the thymine molecules to react which then causes the genetic sequence to become disrupted. Once this disruption occurs, cells can no longer grow and replicate, and cell death becomes inevitable. Bacteria and viruses are inactivated, meaning they can no longer cause infection.
Tony Sanders, director of the Department of Environmental Services, says the robots give Moffitt an extra edge in patient protection. “What makes the UV robots so cutting edge is that they are mobile and autonomous,” said Sanders. “We can free up our staff to address other important areas. Honestly, this is the future of health care.”
With normal, stationary UV lamps, there are unavoidable obstacles that make them a less effective means of disinfection. Shadows prevent UVC rays from touching every contaminated surface while distance requires the continuous movement of the light source. These robots can be safely left alone for extended periods of time while they drive around and decontaminate environments that are potentially harboring dangerous microorganisms.
As Moffitt expands its footprint across Florida with the opening of its new inpatient surgical hospital in 2023, big plans are in store for this kind of technology. “We’re building on the already tremendous and exceptional services provided by our team members,” said Terrence Wright, vice president of Facilities and Support Services. “Our staff will feel safer, and patients and families will be able to heal in cleaner environments. This kind of technology will be the hallmark of Moffitt’s infection prevention efforts moving forward.”
Gallo Medical Supply and Moffitt Cancer Center both value the impact that families can have on healing. Both understand that family members are a key part of a patient’s care team. Christine Gallo remembers how it felt being with her husband during his cancer journey and treatment. She knows firsthand the impact family can have.
“We have to let families be together,” said Gallo. “Watching families be separated during the pandemic was heartbreaking. This equipment may never touch a patient, but it helps them heal,” said Gallo. “UV is just one tool in our toolkit to help patients and families be together. It helps families be in safer, cleaner environments so they can stay together. I wish we could donate 100 robots to Moffitt.”