Milken Alumnus Saves Lives One Hand Wash at a Time

It took a personal loss for Janel Nour-Omid to make an important personal gain. A few years ago, the Milken alum experienced the sudden passing of her grandfather. “My grandfather was admitted to the hospital for a kidney stone treatment, caught pneumonia after a very standard procedure, and never made it out,” she says. That devastating loss led her to do research on hospital-acquired infections, learning that they are a lot more common than most people think. Hearing other people’s stories really inspired Janel to find a solution, Vitalacy.

As she said it, “Vitalacy is a health and hygiene technology company focused mainly on improving the workplace and patient safety.” The wearable device provides accurate hand hygiene reporting, real-time hand-washing reminders, and notifications which alert doctors to make sure they do not spread any infections. As hospital-acquired infections are a more common death than breast and prostate cancer combined, the little watch makes a large impact. Upon looking at the primary causes of these infections, she discovered that these life-threatening infections are mainly caused by a lack of proper handwashing. “To be a little bit more specific on the statistics there,” she said, “about 100,000 people die a year because of hospital-acquired infections, and 70% of that is attributed [to] poor hand hygiene.” These alarming numbers lead Janel to try and find a cure for such an overlooked issue. 

Nour-Omid’s background in computer science and design helped lead her in the direction of starting the new hand hygiene platform. Her gadget was able to improve hand-hygiene compliance by 200% in 8 hospitals, both in the United States and Israel, resulting in consecutive quarters in infection prevention and reduction. “In a children’s hospital, we were installed in, they reduced their infections significantly to the point that they reached zero infection numbers in a couple of months including not having a single COVID case while we were installed in that unit,” she said. She and her team are forecasting that they will hopefully save thousands of lives within the next coming years.

Although most of her inspiration came from experiences she had after graduating from high school, Nour-Omid said that she had a really great experience at Milken. “The education that we received is one of the best in the country and I think Milken was very good about making sure you received the foundation and the education of very broad topics.” She continued to talk about how Milken made it seem like anything is possible for their students, allowing graduates to leave with an open mind. Her high school experience set a strong foundation for the rest of her life. 

Moving forward, Nour-Omid hopes to give the staff reminders and be a helpful tool to remind them to stay focused during their busy days. “For example,” she said, “Rounding on their patients. Patients are supposed to be visited once every hour and oftentimes, the caregiving staff have a million things going on and they forget.” Having a solution like Vitalacy can help nurses and doctors track their work-flow and give them feedback, ensuring that all the needs of their many patients are met, thanks to the work of a Milken graduate.