Robots help workers at Mercy hospitals

  • November 21, 2022
  • Steve Rogerson

Autonomous robots are helping workers at Mercy Hospital Jefferson near St Louis perform everyday tasks.

Nurses and other co-workers have a host of daily duties and, especially since the beginning of the pandemic, their responsibilities can feel overwhelming. Even before the pandemic, the USA faced a shortage of clinical caregivers. Today, as one in five health care workers in the USA has left the industry, the situation is even more urgent.

To help co-workers do what they do best – take care of patients – Mercy has implemented an innovative way to accomplish time-intensive support tasks – autonomous robots known as Tugs, because of the way they pull carts around the hospital.

“When there aren’t enough hands or feet to get everything done, a set of wheels can make all the difference,” said Kim Kerlagon, a patient ambassador at Mercy Hospital Jefferson, where the robots have been in use the past three years. “Tugs, autonomous robots, take care of so many tasks that used to slow us down and take time away from our patients. They can pick up and deliver patient meals, linens and even medications. Every trip a Tug makes is one a human being doesn’t have to and, for nurses and other caregivers, it means we can spend more time with our patients.”

After a successful pilot programme at Mercy Jefferson, Tugs are being put to use at Mercy’s largest hospital in St Louis, with a target launch date by the end of January 2023, followed by other Mercy hospitals throughout the year.

“The use of Tugs across Mercy’s communities continues a commitment to taking an innovative approach to health care to benefit patients and the care they receive,” said Eric Ammons, president of Mercy Hospital Jefferson. “Mercy was among the first care systems in the USA to have a comprehensive, integrated electronic health record. Tug robots are another in a growing list of innovations that enable Mercy co-workers to focus on delivering the best possible patient care. And when you next visit a Mercy facility, make sure to look for a Tug.”

Tugs, named for the way they tote carts containing various supplies around the hospital, are truly autonomous. They can sense obstacles and people in their way and can navigate around them, react to emergencies and remove themselves from an area, even call and ride the hospital’s elevators to navigate the building.

“Honestly, I wish I could get one of these things for my house,” said Jacquelyn Bauch, executive director of support services at Mercy Jefferson. “They just handle so many little things that have to get done but either take time or are just tedious. Imagine having a robot that can take out your trash and do your laundry. It just frees up so much time for our healthcare workers who are stretched thin. They don’t replace co-workers, but instead help us do more important work, spending even more time with patients.”

John Mohart, president of Mercy communities and chief clinical officer, added: “Like everything we do, the implementation of Tugs is very strategic. We know the needs in all of our facilities are different, so the Tugs will be doing different jobs in different places. This technology will support whichever co-workers need it the most.”

Mercy, one of the 25 largest US health systems, serves millions annually. The integrated, multi-state health care system includes more than 40 acute care, managed and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopaedic and rehab) hospitals, convenient and urgent care locations, imaging centres, and pharmacies. Mercy has 900 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 4000 Mercy Clinic physicians and practitioners, and more than 40,000 co-workers serving patients and families across Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma. Mercy also has clinics, outpatient services and outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas.