Plenty has been done within healthcare organizations across the country to reduce the spread of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). Measures such as readily accessible hand-washing sinks have been put in place, and facilities are tracking staff compliance, too. But human processes have limits, says Dr. Gene Burke, vice president and executive medical director, clinical effectiveness, Sentara Healthcare (Norfolk, Va.).

While his organization saw a 10-fold reduction in the incidence rate of HAIs thanks to such approaches, Sentara was looking for even more improvement in its 11 acute care hospitals in Virginia.

In February 2012, as Sentara was getting ready to start construction on a new replacement facility for Sentara Leigh Hospital (Norfolk, Va.), the organization was approached by EOS Surfaces (Norfolk, Va.) and Cupron (Richmond, Va.) about taking part in a research study to measure the efficacy of their antimicrobial copper-infused hard surface and linen products. “We’d pretty much exhausted the reach of human process,” Burke says. “Looking for the next step, we thought this was going to be a possible answer, so we agreed to find a way for them to test [these products] in a real-world hospital environment.”

Sentara’s multi-phased construction project included a new 129-bed tower, so the organization decided to introduce the copper-infused products here while maintaining status quo in the existing wing.  

Opening in November 2013, the new tower’s patient care areas, including nursing units, visitor lounges, and patient rooms, have been outfitted with copper-infused countertops, bed rails, and bed tables, which have been EPA-approved to kill 99.9 percent of bacteria in less than two hours.

In early 2014, the hospital will also introduce copper-infused hospital gowns, pillowcases, and towels in the new tower. In addition, a smaller study is being conducted at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital (Norfolk, Va.), where two side-by-side critical care units that share the same nursing staff will test the fabrics in one unit for six months before switching them to the other unit for another six months.

As part of its evaluation, Sentara will look at infection rates—such as urinary catheter-associated and central line blood stream infections—to see if there’s a decrease in their development and whether there’s a dip in the number of antibiotics prescribed as a result of HAIs. “It’s data that every hospital has about itself, because we all report it to the federal government,” Burke says. “That way, two years from now, a hospital out there can take the data they already have, look at this experience, and know this stuff will make a difference or not in their world.”

Sentara plans to conduct a year-long study at both facilities and share the data with the industry in early 2015.