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Cleaning robot allows Life Flight to continue mission during COVID-19 pandemic

The UVC robot disinfects specially designated Life Flight COVID-19 chopper after very flight keeping patients and crew safe.

HOUSTON — COVID-19 is changing how Memorial Hermann Life Flight operates.

"It adds more stress to what they're doing every day," said Tom Flanagan, VP of Trauma and Service Line Integration with Memorial Hermann Health System. "With COVID-19 being so virulent and transmissible, of course, they have concerns."

The Life Flight program is dedicating one of its medical choppers specifically to transport COVID-19 patients. The most critically ill coronavirus patients are flown from smaller hospitals to the main campus at the Texas Medical Center.

"Our first concern was to protect our pilots and paramedics," Flanagan said.

Life Flight developed new protocols and procedures. The flight crew wears personal protection equipment. Everyone wears a mask, and the chopper is cleaned with liquid disinfectants after every single flight.

"We have a robot that goes in the aircraft now, and we seal the aircraft shut," Flanagan said.

This special UVC robot does the rest. Once inside the chopper, the robot can detect and analyze how long it will take to destroy any bacteria or viruses in the aircraft. Flight crews can control the robot from the outside using a simple WiFi connection. The special light kills whatever traces of COVID-19 it finds inside.

"The robot sealed the deal because we knew through our infectious disease partners the amount of ultraviolet light that it exhibits and gets out is able to clean that," Flanagan said. "It's just an added layer of protection that we felt we needed to have to make our crews safe."

Since the pandemic began, Life Flight's continued to respond to its usual call load transporting and caring for the area's most critically hurt patients while also protecting themselves from possible transmission.

"I see this as our new normal for quite some time," Flanagan said.

So far, 11 COVID-19 patients have needed to be flown by Life Flight. Hospital officials said it's too early to determine how many they'll ultimately transport, but they're ready.

RELATED: New trauma patient tower, home of Life Flight opens in Texas Medical Center

RELATED: Future paramedic meets the flight nurse who flew her to hospital after horrific crash

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