By GREGORY ZELLER //
After 30 years in the healthcare business, Rachel Dombrowsky understands very well the dangers of hospital-acquired infections. Also, shoes kind of gross her out.
So Dombrowsky embarked on an ambitious “science project,” literally on the ground floor: Floors are the most “unappreciated pool of pathogens” in a hospital environment, she noted, “more contaminated than bedrails or even toilets” – and yet, little scientific progress has been made when it comes to stopping germs from attaching themselves to footwear and hitching rides from one area of a hospital to another.
The risks of HIA (which also stands for “healthcare-associated infections”) are familiar to Dombrowsky, president and CEO of the Oyster Bay Senior Campus, which maintains multiple assisted-living facilities catering to the elderly, the memory-impaired and other senior populations.
“I’m very aware of the need to protect my residents in their environment, which is a congregant care environment, and to make sure that when one person comes down with something, it’s not transferred to any other place in the building,” Dombrowsky told Innovate LI.
And yeah, there was that shoe thing.
“My other inspiration was I always had an aversion to wearing my shoes in my home after wearing them in hospitals and assisted-living facilities and in the street,” she added. “And I didn’t like when other people [wore them in the house], but I didn’t have much control over that.”
Through her 2015 startup Harbor Innovations, an Oyster Bay-based medical-device company, Dombrowsky started tinkering. She focused immediately on ultraviolet light and primarily targeted C. diff – Clostridium difficile, which according to the innovator is “one of the hardest pathogens to kill, because it has a very hard shell … and it lasts about five months on a surface.”
Her initial attempts – combining UV lightbulbs inside a casing that looked a bit like a bathroom scale, with angled louvers from an air-conditioner unit to keep the UV light out of her eyes – weren’t very stylish, but they did the trick.
“It did kill C. diff,” Dombrowksy noted.
Now, with the help of one of Long Island’s most innovative product-development specialists, Dombrowsky is preparing to introduce the world to FlooRX – a next-generation, IoT-enabled, nickel-thin device capable of eradicating C. diff and a host of other footwear-focused pathogens, including e coli, MRSA and the fungal infection Candida auris.
Harbor Innovations partnered with Smithtown-based MIDI Medical Product Development on the sleek upgrade, which instead of full-size ultraviolet bulbs incorporates UV light-emitting diodes – offering the same germicidal benefits, according to MIDI Principal Chris Montalbano, only in a wafer-thin design and with “the digital control you need to create a smart system.”
“Others in the industry are already using UV bulbs to kill these pathogens, but MIDI took it to the next level,” Montalbano said. “Rachel took the idea of using them to sanitize feet, and MIDI used our DevelopmentDNA process to understand the user community and search for unique technologies to apply in this unique way.
“We now have unprecedented ability to easily insert this into architectural construction at hospitals, whether renovations or new (construction).”
Not only does the LED upgrade eliminate “the spatial constraints of full-size bulbs” (meaning you can basically create a floor-based device that users must only step on), but it facilitated direct control of which UV diodes are activated and which aren’t – “mitigating UV spillage,” Montalbano noted.
“This product also has unprecedented Internet of Things connectivity,” he added. “Hospitals not only want to kill infections on the feet, they want to know which critical-care facilities are complying and which aren’t.”
The FlooRX, which has earned a U.S. patent for Harbor Innovation, has undergone numerous clinical trials – spanning hospitals and assisted-living facilities, conducted by both Dombrowsky and MIDI – and is now gearing up for its first mass-production run. More trials are planned, but already discussions are underway with “a medical-grade contract manufacturer,” according to Montalbano.
Partnering with MIDI was the best move Harbor Innovations could have made, according to Dombrosky, who said the FlooRX racing to market is “nothing like” what she cobbled together on her own.
“I have never made as good a decision as when I came to MIDI,” the inventor said. “When I walked into their office, I knew I was in the right hands at the right time.
“It’s really been a joy working with them, but now that we’re going into contract manufacturing I’m actually a little sad,” Dombrowsky added. “It’s time to let the baby go!”