Pay it Forward: Prime Medical

prime-1One of the chief aims of the Affordable Care Act is to improve health outcomes by tying reimbursement rates to readmission rates. With hospital-associated infections an ever-present challenge, Prime Medical of Largo, Florida has developed a new microfiber technology designed to reduce bacterial growth with an assist from common household bleach.

SAF-T scrubs are designed to combat bacterial infection through a technology that draws chlorine out of EPA-registered (8.25-percent) laundry bleach. Developed with a polymer that pulls a light layer of chlorine from the laundry process, the scrubs are capable of holding that chemical on the surface of the garments for 90 to 120 days, killing 99.9 percent of bacteria; a 3-Log reduction, said Prime Medical CEO Jim Sampey. The technology, which was developed by Milliken & Company of Spartanburg, South Carolina, is very innovative to focus on 3-Log reduction in bacteria, he said. The bactericidal efficacy rate has been tested through as many as 75 wash cycles, is believed to last longer, and is under further wash testing review.

“We’ve done the skin testing to make sure there’s no absorption of chlorine,” Sampey said. “It’s less than a swim in a swimming pool. Put it around the patient, and put it around the staff; you create a cocoon of safety.”

Although the company was only just launched in June 2016, Prime Medical has already donated 550 sets of its SAF-T scrubs to three different hospitals affiliated with the New Cumberland, Pennsylvania-based CURE International. Since 1998, CURE International has provided more than 2 million patient visits to children worldwide, and operates teaching hospitals in nearly a dozen nations. The Christian nonprofit manages charitable hospitals and programs in 29 countries overall, with a focus on pediatric patients who suffer from disabling orthopedic conditions, untreated injuries, and hydrocephalus. Prime Medical has also pledged to provide more of its products – a significant portion of its first inventory to hit the market – to the Tebow CURE Hospital in the Philippines (established in partnership with a foundation begun by former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow).

“When we started this company, one of our core missions was philanthropic,” Sampey said. “We selected CURE for the output of this philanthropic effort. It made sense to take care of the people who are taking care of the kids.”

As significant a concern as hospital-associated infections are in U.S. health centers, infection rates in comparable institutions in developing countries can be several times greater. More than 100,000 patients die from such infections each year in the United States, according to the World Health Organization, which also estimates that 10 of every 100 patients hospitalized in a developing country will acquire at least one such infection.

“When you’re fighting bacteria, there’s so much opportunity around the world,” Sampey said.

prime-3Prime Medical has used the same polymer technology woven into SAF-T scrubs in the manufacturing of sheets, curtains, and other hospital soft surfaces. In developing countries, or places where water is harder to obtain, the company believes the technology can help conserve resources by allowing facilities to do fewer loads of laundry. In Zambia, where Prime Medical donated 88 sets of SAF-T scrubs for a CURE International teaching hospital, one of the biggest hurdles Sampey said CURE staff encountered was convincing staff that adding bleach to their dark-colored scrubs wouldn’t stain or ruin them.

“As long as they can get a bucket of water and bleach, that activates the polymer,” Sampey said. “The product keeps that chlorine on there for days. Where water is precious, you don’t have to wash it every day to keep it clean.”

During clinical trials at King Hussein Medical Center in Amman, Jordan, Prime Medical staff have discussed ways in which they might be able to further apply the technology behind SAF-T scrubs to assist refugees of war. Since the camps in which victims of armed conflict are traditionally received are areas where infection can breed, Prime Medical believes that providing antibacterial fabrics – tents, cots, sheets, etc. – could be used to help reduce disease rates for three or four months.

“You start to hear of the diseases that are born again when they come out of those refugee camps,” Sampey said; “diseases that we killed 100 years ago that are starting to come back. We’re having some conversations, but it’s early yet.”

Other discussions that emerged from the clinical trials in Jordan revolved around the cultural differences there. Women in the Middle East might prefer a long-sleeved scrub in keeping with their religious tenets; such a garment could also be useful more broadly in health care environments to help protect the transmission of diseases by simply covering more of the skin. Prime Medical is also working on a lower-cost version of its products that can be effectively distributed throughout health care systems in emerging nations.

“It’s been interesting watching how to make the product better and innovate,” Sampey said.

Whatever the future of the technology at work in the SAF-T scrubs, the good that it has already been able to do to limit surgical site infections in places where resources are limited and children are at risk is significant. CURE International Vice-President of Operations Andrew H. Groop said in a statement that the product “is helping us raise the standard of treatment for the children in our care.”

“These children deserve the very best we can give them, and preventing infection is so critical to the quality of care we can provide,” Groop said.