In the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, the wiz himself tells Dorothy and her fellow visitors to the Emerald City, “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” Today, people in health care are defying that order by paying attention to a very different man behind a very different kind of curtain.
That man is Lorenz “Buddy” Mayer, and he is the mastermind behind the Hand Shield, a new kind of hospital curtain that provides better outcomes for patients by reducing the spread of germs.
Life is good for Mr. Mayer, the assistant director of support services at North Shore University Hospital (NSUH). He has a new invention, patent and an original idea to reduce the spread of germs that is itself spreading to hospitals around the country. Patients notice his creation during their stays at Northwell Health hospitals.
For the inventor, the new attention has been a whirlwind, allowing him to step out from behind his own curtain to take a bow as a health care innovator.
Making Things Work
Mr. Mayer, 58, joined NSUH 13 years ago. He started his health care career as a porter and has held jobs as an iron-worker, treeremover, gardener and janitor. His love of invention and discovery, and the joy he gets from working with his hands, goes back to growing up on a 600-acre farm on Long Island. It continues to this day at his second home in upstate New York, complete with a lumber mill that he runs with his brother.
“When you grow up the way I did, you make do with what you have. You make things work,” he said. “I’ve had ideas about making things better my whole life. My grandfather was a machinist prior to World War II, and some of his inventions helped make cars and elevators work better. That inspired me.”
Still, it’s a long way from using leftover wire to tighten a farm fence to devising a way to improve safety within the multibilliondollar health care field.
“My idea for the Hand Shield came about because nurses always wanted to change the curtains in patient rooms,” Mr. Mayer said. He added that the nurses were concerned about the potential spread of germs because multiple people used their bare hands to open and close the curtains around patient beds.
“It was a time-consuming, actually a timewasting, process. It would take an hour to remove a curtain and reinstall a new one,” Mr. Mayer said. Laundering and replacing old curtains was expensive and inefficient.
Is It Curtains for Germs?
Mr. Mayer noticed that people in hospital rooms consistently tugged at the curtains in the same spot. He thought about it and wondered: What if there were a plastic covering at that spot that would be easy to clean and disinfect, eliminating the need for replacing the curtains?
It was a simple idea — but not really. It needed to be studied. Affixing plastic to the curtain was relatively easy, with a nominal $28 cost (with significant savings), and it took 15 seconds to disinfect it. The patient benefit through increased safety, as a credit card ad might say, is priceless.
“We established a control room and monitored use for several months,” Mr. Mayer said. “The departments of infection control, quality and nursing were all involved. We put the curtain through commercial washers to test durability. Finally, when it was ready to go, we went through Northwell Ventures to bring it to market. They were the partners who wanted to make the idea real. And they have.”
Now modified to be an easy-to-clean piece of fabric, the curtain is being rolled out throughout Northwell Health’s 21 hospitals. Curtain Care Plus, an outside vendor, is marketing the Hand Shield at hospital trade shows around the country.
Even as the Hand Shield takes hold in health care settings from Texas to Ohio and elsewhere, for those who were there at its birth, the innovation will forever be known as “Buddy’s curtain.”
Creative problem-solving has a ripple effect, not only on positive patient outcomes, but also on would-be inventors. Mr. Mayer manages 275 people and they are following his lead. “This invention has inspired people to think about things and how we can improve them. People come up to me all the time: ‘How did you think about this? How can I do it?’ I encourage them to submit to Northwell’s Idea Forum. They are true partners and the opportunities for improvement are limitless.”