Innovators work to keep Veterans and staff safe

Innovators work to keep Veterans and staff safe

VA employees on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic have to do their jobs well — or even better than before — while keeping Veterans, other employees and themselves safe. To help them, VA is challenging innovators, engineers, designers and end users from academia, the private sector and VA to create new ways to help health care staff do their jobs.

The second COVID-19 Maker Challenge, organized by the VHA Innovation Ecosystem (VHA IE) and Challenge America, was held in June and focused on inventing new solutions for Environmental Management Services (EMS) workers — the custodial staff who make sure that VA health care facilities are clean, safe and sterile for both patients and hospital employees. EMS workers put their lives at risk every day. Reducing their risk of exposure to COVID-19 helps VA take better care of Veterans.

During the make-a-thon, teams made up of innovators from VA, academia and the private sector engaged in a week of research and redesign, ending in a two-day final competition. In the true spirit of VHA IE’s mission to spread innovation rapidly, multiple solutions are being integrated into VHA facilities. The VHA Innovators Network connected two EMS Maker Challenge teams with VHA end users to continue design work and, eventually, test the solutions within their medical centers.

Team Can’t Touch This

To help custodial staff avoid direct contact with frequently touched surfaces like door handles and switches, Team Can’t Touch This designed a tool that features a retractable door-opening and touch point device sanitizes surfaces each time it retracts. The team is working with VA Sierra Nevada Health Care System to put their solution in the hands of environmental services workers in Reno for feedback.

Team HermTac

The Team HermTac solution earned top marks as the winner of the VHA Innovation Experience (iEx) Design Award. This solution uses concentrated ultraviolet light inside a box to sanitize objects in seconds. The team is working with VHA IE leadership to carry out feasibility testing at the Charles George VA Medical Center and Minneapolis VA Healthcare System to provide further design input and test the sanitization box.

The innovation does not stop there. The third Maker Challenge has just wrapped up, with solutions and designs being evaluated for further implementation and testing at VA. The third round addressed the changing needs of nursing home staff and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.



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