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Cleaner + Better Care

Cleaner + Better Care

In Germ Studio, students devise medical tools that reduce health-care associated infections while addressing issues related to patient comfort.

After visiting the NYU Langone Medical Center, Lea Hershkowitz MDes 16 (far right) developed a project that purposefully introduces plant microbes into hospital settings.

After leaving a NYC trauma center—a hot zone for healthcare-associated infections—Mircea Forte 16 ID couldn’t quite shake the sound of ripping Velcro. He had watched nurses strapped for time gauging blood pressure levels for one distressed patient after another using the same cotton cuff. Hoping to ensure the sterility of a medical device that gets shared like that, he designed a new version using antimicrobial bamboo fibers.

“This material seems like such an obvious choice when designing medical tools for the hospital setting,” Forte explains. “Not only is bamboo a sustainable resource, it’s naturally resistant to undesirable pathogens. The potential applications are limitless.”

Forte designed and tested the device in the interdisciplinary Germ Studio taught by Interior Architecture Professor Peter Yeadon. At the beginning of spring semester, students visited the NYU Langone Medical Center to meet with medical staff and investigate the inner workings of its emergency room, operating rooms and intensive care units. While in New York, they also visited NBBJ, an international architectural firm that designs highly productive and sustainable spaces, to learn how experts lay out hospitals for maximum efficiency.

“The discussions were incredibly diverse and focused on a range of topics—including waste disposal, hand hygiene, building systems, evacuation routes and site planning,” notes Yeadon. “Using this information, students devised innovative ways to reduce heathcare-associated infections while addressing systemic issues related to patient comfort, hospital protocol and workplace conditions.”

After observing open-heart surgery, Eugenie Jeong 15 IA designed an operating room floor cover made of antimicrobial polymer sheets that rupture the cell walls of harmful fungi, bacteria and viruses on contact. She designed the disposable cover—which takes approximately 25 seconds to remove after surgery—to fit at the base of the operating table.

“In most US hospitals, it takes about 20 minutes for cleaning crews to mop down an area with powerful disinfectants and then wait for the area to dry,” Jeong explains. “This floor cover would help crews decontaminate the operating room and increase the number of possible surgeries.”

During the hospital tour, Lily Fan 16 ID was moved by common ailments that often plague surgeons during long procedures: stiff necks, sore backs and tired legs, among other distracting discomforts. In response, she designed the prototype for an adjustable, ergonomic seat that reduces strain on surgeons’ vertebrae and knee joints. “Alleviating these issues allows physicians to better focus on their work,” she explains. “And the seat has wheels, so it’s easily portable.”

At the final critique in May, a panel of six guest critics—including RISD faculty, visiting physicians and interior architects – reviewed the forward-thinking projects. Dr. Michael Phillips, director of the infection prevention and control unit at the NYU Langone Medical Center, and Bryan Langlands, a Principle at NBBJ, were especially intrigued with an inventive project by Lea Hershkowitz MDes 16 that purposefully introduces plant microbes into sterile medical centers.

To counter the artificial environments of most hospitals, Hershkowitz proposed adaptations to existing mechanical air systems within urban intensive care units (ICUs). Drawing from the same technology used by Japanese astronauts to grow food in space, hanging plants in mesh “hydropods” with water but no soil are incorporated into the space. She used the works of Florence Nightingale and Jessica Green—a microbiologist who believes that filtering indoor air through mechanical ventilation systems increases the concentration of dangerous pathogens—to scientifically substantiate her design and thinking.

“According to many scientists, this type of ‘microbial diversity’ could benefit patients’ physical health, says Hershkowitz. “And studies show that exposure to nature tends to enhance our moods. This holistic approach to patient care would radically enhance the healthcare system for everyone.”

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