EDINBURG — South Texas Health Systems recently acquired technology designed to filter its air and disinfect surfaces in its hospitals — action taken to ease any public health anxieties surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.

The new tech includes a rapid UVC disinfector, 18 Amaircare filters and four dry hydrogen peroxide generators.

Since late April, after Gov. Greg Abbott lifted restrictions on elective medical procedures across the state, STHS COO Matt Malinak said patient volume has slowly gone back to normal — but the low flow of patients is still alarming.

“We have seen a significant dropoff in volume,” he said. “It’s been noticeable to the point where we know that patients are not receiving the care that they need because they’re scared to go to the emergency room. The ultimate goal post-COVID, or as we get to be comfortable with the new norm of COVID, is trying to catch up with that demand that’s been backlogged for six to eight weeks now.”

On top of several sanitation protocols that have already been implemented, STHS hospitals have recently acquired several new disinfecting machines, one being a rapid UVC (ultraviolet light) disinfector.

The tall machine’s body is composed of long tubes that light up and emit UVC rays, which have been proven to be able to kill microbes, such as COVID-19. UVC light has been proven to be proficient at destroying the genetic material of both humans and viruses, and is commonly used to sterilize surfaces.

Malinak explained that the machine, which can’t be turned on near people, is used after a room has been manually disinfected.

South Texas Health Systems recently acquired a rapid UVC disinfect machine, which disinfects surfaces with ultraviolet light. (A. Colleen DeGuzman | cdeguzma@themonitor.com)

“After we are done cleaning a room, there might be spots under the chair, or maybe a spot on a wheel that we may not have fully been able to get to,” Malinak said. “What this will do is seek out those areas and it will zap everything in the room… it goes after the DNA of microbes and blows them up.”

The machine can sanitize a room in about 15 minutes, and will be used to clean all rooms of the hospital, including operating rooms and patient rooms.

Then, working to clean the hospital’s air are a couple of machines: Amaircare filters, and dry hydrogen peroxide generators.

The Amaircare machines, Malinak explained, are considered high-efficiency particulate air filters, or HEPA filters, which process air and rid it of harmful particles.

“All this does is take air in and recycle it, and it uses a HEPA filter that’s in it to catch those microbes,” he said. “Then the air it pushes back out is clean.”

The small machines will be placed all around the hospital, including waiting areas and patient rooms.

While Amaircare machines filter air, dry hydrogen peroxide (DHP) generators continuously release disinfecting gas, which is safe for public areas.

“This gas is safe for everyone, that way, we can continuously disinfect rooms without having to clear people out to use the robot (the rapid UVC disinfector),” Malinak said.

In addition to the work of both of these machines, Maliak explained that the larger air conditioning system of the building is already built as a HEPA filter. Sitting on top of the STHS’s Edinburg Children’s Hospital, for instance, is a large air filtering machine with UVC light bulbs inside.

All of the air in the hospitals run through a similar machine, which then purifies the air and sends it back inside, much like the way lungs work.

The last piece of new equipment is not as high-tech, but is just as important: disinfecting mats.

“Everyone wears their shoes in the hospital, and a lot of them wear them at home. We walk in and out of patient rooms all the time,” Malinak said.

The black mats have protruding teeth and will have disinfecting solution poured over them. So, when someone is standing on it and wiggles a little, their shoes will be scrubbed clean. Other measures that STHS has taken is providing staff members in COVID-19, as well as labor and delivery departments, with scrubs to change into while working.

Now that restrictions on elective procedures have been lifted, STHS is performing all the procedures it could before. To accomodate the expected rise in incoming patients, and in an effort to catch up with the procedures that were supposed to happen over the past two months, STHS has increased its operating room capacity.

“We want to make sure that they (the public) are comfortable coming back to the hospital,” Malinak said. “If you are having chest pain, you should go to the ER, it is not something you want to put off. So, investing in this is investing in our community because we want to make sure that we don’t see additional patients become more acutely ill, we want them to feel comfortable that they can come into the hospital.”