Germ-repelling medical scrubs and lab coats are allowing Long Island health-care providers to guard against microbes that may stick to clothing during patient care.
The clothes — sometimes called “super scrubs” — are like a force field, made of advanced technology fabric that is impervious to fluids and rebuffs microorganisms, experts said.
Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park is the first of 22 hospitals within the Northwell Health system to begin outfitting its providers and staff with the apparel.
Officials at the 202-bed pediatric hospital plan to have 700 employees in the attire by December, and the special scrubs and lab coats are expected to be worn throughout Northwell’s system of about 4,000 employees by February.
“They cost double the amount we pay for our current scrubs, but because of staff- and patient-safety benefits they are worth every penny,” said Dawn D’Andraia, director of materials and operations at Cohen Children’s Medical Center.
She was the first staff member in the health system to learn about the uniforms — technically known as barrier protective clothing — and to spread the word among Northwell executives.
Health care-acquired infections are a worldwide concern, said Dr. Luis Martinez, an associate professor at New York Institute of Technology’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in Old Westbury.
The bugs are opportunistic and colonize institutionalized patients and medical equipment, he said.
More than a decade ago, a British study demonstrated that health-care workers’ garments can be an active source of disease transmission. The finding led to new guidelines in the United Kingdom that banned long-sleeved lab coats during patient care.
Northwell is the first health system in New York to use the high-tech clothing as one of its methods of infection control, officials said.
Doctors and nurses, as well as staff members who mop up blood, urine and other bodily products, will wear the attire, which comes in a variety of colors.
The apparel is designed by Vestagen Protective Technologies in Orlando, Florida. The fabric is called Vestex.
Vestagen spokesman Marc Lessem said about 50 other hospitals in the country are using the company’s scrubs and lab coats, which are made of a proprietary fabric treated with an antimicrobial agent.
“Any fluids that hit the garment are repelled and go to the floor,” said Lessem, who defined the antimicrobial agent as “quat,” for quatenary, an agent approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a sanitizer. Quat is used in food-service sanitation, according to the EPA.
The agent is embedded in the the fabric, a material that is 79 percent polyester, 18 percent rayon and 3 percent Spandex. The sanitizing agent is on the exterior of the garment and remains effective after 55 household washes, according to studies sponsored by Vestagen.
The scrubs, which are flexible and breathable, first were tested in a Virginia intensive-care unit, Lessem said, and now are endorsed by the American Hospital Association. While about a half-dozen other companies make antimicrobial scrubs, no others make fabric that is both antimicrobial and fluid-repellent, he said.
“Northwell spent close to two years studying this technology before they decided to give it a try,” Lessem said.
Dr. Peter Silver, chief medical officer at Cohen, plans to meet with Vestagen executives within the next few weeks to consider yet another step — advanced technology apparel for patients.
“We want our employees to feel safe in the hospital environment, and any effort we can undertake to reduce their exposure to body fluids or risk of contracting an illness is extremely important,” Silver said.
Kerri Scanlon, chief nursing officer at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, said the new garments reject fluids of all kinds. Conventional fabrics allow blood or urine to “stay on the clothing, with the risk of it being absorbed into the skin,” she said.
At North Shore, Scanlon said, everyone except surgeons and providers who work in interventional settings will wear the new scrubs. Garments worn in operating rooms have special high-temperature laundering requirements, she said, and are not worn outside the surgical suite.