Sentara Healthcare is in the midst of a systemwide rollout of copper-infused linens, patient gowns and hard surfaces for all inpatient rooms at its 12 hospitals. The move is part of an effort to reduce health care-associated infections in its Virginia and North Carolina hospitals, and follows the results of a 10-month study published in the American Journal of Infection Control last fall.

The study compared pathogen rates of two patient towers at Sentara Leigh Hospital in Norfolk, Va. One of the towers was razed and replaced in 2014 and fitted with a host of copper-infused products for such high-touch objects as bedrails, bedside tables and linens. The other was given the same treatment in 2015. The hospital compared its 2014 data with baseline data from 2013, taking into account that the new patient towers housed mainly surgical patients while the old tower was used for patients with chronic diseases.

The results from the clinical trial showed that hard surfaces and linens infused with copper-oxide compounds contributed to an 83 percent reduction in Clostridium difficile and a 78 percent overall reduction in multidrug-resistant organisms, including C. difficile as well as methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus and vancomycin-resistant enterococci, in a real-world clinical environment.

The copper-infused products being deployed throughout the system's inpatient rooms include bed linens, patient gowns, bedside tables and bedrails.

Photo courtesy of Sentara Healthcare

Because its first set of data compares different patient populations, the hospital conducted a second clinical trial and is working to publish results which will further back its initial data. Part 2 of the study compares the use of copper products in all 250 licensed beds now placed in both of its new patient towers at Sentara Leigh Hospital against two other Sentara hospitals — Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital and Sentara Princess Anne Hospital, both in Virginia Beach, Va.

Although the health system can’t reveal full results of the study just yet, Gene Burke, M.D, vice president and executive medical director, clinical effectiveness, says they were the convincing factor in deploying this rollout. Four of its hospitals have been fitted with new linens and gowns, and the other eight will be done in the next month. The hard surfaces will continue to deploy throughout the year.

“The magnitude in change was such that our company decided we need to change the standard of care, that our patients needed us to and that our mission required us to bring forward this technology that we think will be so powerful in controlling avoidable harm, which is essentially what health care-associated infections are,” Burke says. “We took this to our leadership and presented our business case, which was accepted. So now, we are putting all [copper-infused] fabrics in all of our hospitals, and then putting limited surfaces [infused with copper-oxide compounds] in hospitals as well, which we expect to conclude at the end of summer or fall.”

Sentara Leigh Hospital’s infection control protocol is certified by DNV-GL Healthcare, and while the hospital says that copper products are not the end-all, be-all of infection control, it certainly moves the needle in the right direction.

It also didn’t require much change in protocols. All of the linens and surfaces can be cleaned using standing resources and processes with the exception that no fabric softeners can be used on linens and no polish can be used on hard surfaces because of the barrier these products create between the microbes and the copper-infused surface. For the copper’s continuous-cleaning ability to work, the microbes must actually meet the surface.

“This is one of the most significant developments in infection prevention and control inside of hospitals that we’ve seen in quite a while,” says Becky Brubaker, R.N., MSN, CIC, infection preventionist, Sentara RMH Medical Center, Harrisburg, Va. “It’s important to realize that copper linens and surfaces are not a substitute for the other stringent infection control practices that we have in place; this is just one more tool, and a powerful one, that we can use in our ongoing efforts to prevent health care-associated infections.”