By Holger Dielenberg
Melbourne Business Makerspace Space Tank creates a new company Health Forge to create medical products and design health protection innovations for COVID-19 frontline workers.
With a recently leaked Victorian Government audit finding that almost 50 per cent of hospital isolation rooms in the state failed to meet ventilation guidelines, we now know our Government is well aware that hospitals are absolutely putting people at risk.
This is a serious concern as not only are people’s lives at risk, but also upgrades to building ventilation infrastructure is an immense challenge. The traditional solution to building ventilation upgrades involves a huge investment of time and money which means that we will be dealing with this problem for a long time.
Fortunately, there is an affordable and immediate solution that is more effective and reliable than building ventilation.
To address the lack of adequate ventilation controls in healthcare settings, Health Forge has developed a new medical device, the KUTITJI Mobile Isolation Unit, to help protect healthcare workers in hospitals and aged care facilities where an alarming percentage of staff Covid infections are likely to have been acquired.
Ventilation controls have been recognised by the Federal Government on 02 July 2021, in its updated advice on minimising the risk of infectious respiratory disease transmission in the context of COVID-19. This approach has been endorsed and recommended by the Federal Safe Work Australia’s Code of Practice on ‘How to manage work health and safety risks’ – but ventilation controls continue to be poorly implemented in hospitals and aged care settings.
The new KUTITJI Mobile Isolation Unit provides more effective and reliable control of airborne infections, at a tiny fraction of the installation cost compared to upgrading building ventilation systems and one twentieth of the cost compared to in-situ isolation rooms.
Statistics of hospital acquired infections show that using only traditional health PPE against airborne diseases can lead to unacceptably high rates of staff infections. The CDC’s hierarchy of infection controls (see diagram below) demonstrates that front-line health workers are using the least effective protection, PPE such as gloves, masks and gowns, as their primary line of defence against airborne infections.
For over a century, healthcare workers in hospital and aged care facilities have protected themselves from airborne infections by practicing physical distancing, patient isolation and wearing PPE such as face masks and gloves. These methods have seen no significant evolution since the Spanish Flu.
Space Tank Studio was approached by clinicians from Alice Springs Hospital and a group of researchers led by Curtin University in Perth to address the problem of hospital acquired infections and improve ventilation controls. Holger Dielenberg and Scott Anderson from Space Tank decided to create the Health Forge company in line with ISO standards in order to develop a solution that meets regulatory compliance.
The challenge for Health Forge was to create a mobile ventilation device that isolates and removes airborne infection hazards at the source before they can even enter the room and come into contact with healthcare workers and other patients.
Health Forge have focused on workplaces where most airborne infections are predicted to occur. At the time of writing, the following statistics were available (note: these Government statistics are updated regularly):
a) Of the 3580 Victorian COVID-19 cases in clinical healthcare workers, 72.6% (2598) were likely to have acquired their infection in a healthcare setting.
b) Of the 924 Victorian aged care and disability carer cases, 84 per cent have been investigated. Of these, 90 per cent of the cases were acquired by carers at work.
To understand the needs of medical staff and patients as well as cleaning and operations personnel, Health Forge conducted market research and consultations with medical professionals and researchers at Alice Springs Hospital, medical engineers at Purple House, ICU department at Royal Perth Hospital, Clinicians and senior staff at Melbourne’s Northern Health Epping Hospital, Proactive Ageing, and fluid dynamics researchers at Perth’s Curtin University. The results of this research informed a design prototype that was showcased for trials at Northern Health hospital between November 2020 and February 2021.
Collaboration with stakeholders led to interest from Purple House who operate nurse assisted dialysis in 18 remote communities in SA, WA and NT. The protection of these communities against outbreaks of infectious diseases is of paramount concern. Purple House secured philanthropic funding from Bunnings and BHP to assist Health Forge in the development of the KUTITJI mobile ventilation solution that could protect indigenous communities and ordered the first ten units. It is also through Purple House that the name KUTITJI was chosen, and permission was given to use the name for the new medical device. KUTITJI means ‘Shield’ in the Northern Territory Pintupi language.
The KUTITJI design hybridises building ventilation and patient isolation into a compact mobile unit for beds and chairs that can be rapidly deployed in a multitude of scenarios such as, hospital wards, palliative care, residential aged/disability care, dialysis treatment, emergency departments, oncology, and intensive care units.
The user centred design focuses on the critical safety of healthcare staff who need a more effective airborne infection control solution to counter inefficiencies in PPE, inadequate building ventilation and unscalable in-situ isolation rooms.
KUTITJI offers 3 ground-breaking improvements to the infection control problem space:
1. SAFETY: removes the risk of inter-room virus spread via building ventilation systems by immediately isolating and filtering up to 99.95% of harmful pathogens via HEPA filters before they can even enter a room.
2. MOBILITY: deployable at scale in: hospital wards, ICU’s, small clinics, aged care facilities, cruise ships, remote mining sites and disaster relief zones – making them significantly more flexible and scalable than the limited supply of in-situ isolation rooms that can only handle one patient at a time.
3. AFFORDABILITY: will be distributed for approximately one twentieth the cost of in-situ isolation rooms by utilising advanced manufacturing technology to create lightweight mobile aluminium chassis with precision actuators and ventilation system.
Important benefits of KUTITJI include: reduction of the footprint and expense of isolation rooms, full patient visibility, critical component redundancy, fail safe mechanisms, simple cleaning process, low maintenance and consumable costs, device stability, durable construction that maximises life span and hard flat surfaces enable easy cleaning and disinfecting. After use, simply fold down the device and it wheels away for storage.
The KUTITJI device can be manoeuvred around a bed or dialysis chair to provide compact, quick and reliable isolation of patients. Intuitive push button controls operate fans that extract infected air through HEPA filters that removes up to 99.95% of pathogens from the air before it is returned to the ward.
The Australian Department of Health has formally recognised that Mobile Isolation Units are a promising solution in the fight against airborne infections and that further information and market validation from Australian sector leaders is desirable.
Health Forge is gearing up to manufacture the KUTITJI Mobile Isolation Unit at Space Tank Studio. The KUTITJI is 100% designed and manufactured in Melbourne Australia and is developed to TGA standards with full regulatory compliance.
Contact Health Forge for more information.