Copper: A Silent Helper for Hospitals

Copper:  A Silent Helper for Hospitals
25 Mar 2015

By Ed Harrich, Director of Surgical Services at Pullman Regional Hospital

Patient safety is a top priority for hospitals. This includes a constant focus on the reduction of hospital-acquired infections.  At Pullman Regional Hospital, a 25-bed critical-access hospital located in southeastern Washington, our overall infection rate is very low – 2.13 percent in 2014. However, one infection is one too many.

That is why we are always researching innovative ways to eliminate hospital-acquired infections altogether. One simple measure we took was to replace stainless steel high touch surfaces throughout the hospital with copper. Copper is inherently antimicrobial and has a 99.9 percent kill rate of common hospital bacteria, including Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus MRSA, within two hours.

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We introduced copper components to the hospital in 2014 after being awarded a $10,000 grant from the Copper Development Association (CDA). Our original strategy was to replace all touch surfaces with copper in one patient room but we soon decided a more effective approach was to replace as many high points of contact throughout the hospital that could benefit the greatest amount of people.

To date, we have installed 600 copper drawer handles, 40 copper faucet levers in patient and public restrooms, copper push plates for double doors, and copper handles for IV poles for use by patients, staff and visitors. In the next phase of implementation, we plan to replace door pulls and flat-push plates on doors and continue to update our drawer handles with copper hardware.

From a process standpoint, the conversion was easy and it did not require changes in behavior by staff or patients. Being early adopters of copper has generated a lot of interest by patients as well as the media.  We’re able to share our story about how copper adds another layer of protection into the facility. We view copper as our behind-the-scenes, little helper that is silently, but steadily, and effectively killing bacteria that cause deadly infections.

*Laboratory testing shows that, when cleaned regularly, antimicrobial copper surfaces kill greater than 99.9% of the following bacteria within 2 hours of exposure: MRSA, VRE, Staphylococcus aureus, Enterobacter aerogenes, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and E. coli O157:H7. Antimicrobial copper surfaces are a supplement to and not a substitute for standard infection control practices and have been shown to reduce microbial contamination, but do not necessarily prevent cross contamination or infections; users must continue to follow all current infection control practices.
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