Germ-free zone gets multi-million dollar upgrade

With an estimated 1 in every 20 patients nationwide contracting some sort of infection during their hospital stay, sterilization of hospital instruments becomes even more scrutinized to ensure patient safety. A multi-million dollar upgrade to a local hospital's sterilization area streamlines cleaning, saves money and helps keep patients infection-free.

Lynn Savoy, sterile processing manager at Lake Charles Memorial Hospital, is one of nine employees solely dedicated to washing, checking and double checking surgical tools to make sure they are germ-free.

"This [the sterilization area] is where the cleaning starts…we are the spine of the hospital," said Savoy.

The Centers for Disease Control monitors hospital infections across the country and came to the alarming 1 in 20 statistic. Those infections are not just harmful to patients. They cost hospitals $30 billion every year, according to a hospital infection prevention advocacy group called RID.

The sterilization process starts with a hand wash in a sterile environment and then an ultrasonic rinse. Next processors transfer the tools into what looks like a giant dishwasher that scrubs blood and other particles off the instruments.

"All of our equipment uses roughly 70% water consumption, which allows us to use less chemicals," said Savoy.

Then the tools go into a giant sterilization unit that heats them to a required 270 degrees for four minutes to kill any stubborn bacteria. Lastly, processors hand-check the tools for any visible remnants under a magnifying lens.

Savoy said the new equipment at the hospital makes the step by step sterilization process a bit more eco-friendly and saves the hospital money.

The process takes about 40 minutes, which is down from the hour and 30 minutes with the previous equipment. The new facility was added as part of Lake Charles Memorial Hospital's three year, $7 million investment in their surgical program.

All hospitals are required to follow specific procedures and keep certain standards of sterilization.

Copyright 2011 KPLC. All rights reserved.