Sentara RMH Medical Center is excited to announce that in early April it will begin using copper-infused linens and patient gowns in all inpatient rooms to reduce the incidence of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). Patients will notice that the copper-infused linens have a distinctive tan or salmon color. The hospital will also be retrofitting all inpatient rooms with copper-infused bedside tables and bed handrails later in the year.

Copper linens help improve patient safety

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Sentara RMH Medical Center is excited to announce that in early April it will begin using copper-infused linens and patient gowns in all inpatient rooms to reduce the incidence of healthcare-associated infections (HAIs). Patients will notice that the copper-infused linens have a distinctive tan or salmon color. The hospital will also be retrofitting all inpatient rooms with copper-infused bedside tables and bed handrails later in the year.

The switch to copper-infused products is based on a 10-month clinical trial conducted at Sentara Leigh Hospital in Norfolk, Virginia. It was the world’s largest clinical trial testing the use of copper against healthcare-associated infections. The trial determined that hard surfaces and linens infused with copper oxide compounds contributed to an 83% reduction in Clostridium difficile (C. diff) and a 78% overall reduction in multidrug-resistant organisms (MDROs), including C. diff, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and vancomycin-resistant Enterococci (VRE), in a real-world clinical environment. These results occurred in a hospital with a robust protocol for managing infection risk certified by the healthcare accrediting body DNV-GL Healthcare.

The results of the trial were published in the peer-reviewed American Journal of Infection Control on Sept. 28, 2016 and presented at the annual conference of the Infectious Disease Society of America on October 26, 2016. Sentara, an integrated, not-for-profit healthcare system, is making the change to copper-infused products in all 12 of its hospitals in Virginia and North Carolina.

“These findings are significant not only for Sentara Healthcare and Sentara RMH Medical Center, but for all healthcare facilities,” said Michael Botticelli, MD, chief of staff the Sentara RMH Medical Center. “Sentara RMH already has a low incidence of healthcare-associated infections because of our culture of patient safety and the processes we have in place to support that culture, but the use of copper-infused linens and hard surfaces will help us lower that incidence even further.”

“This is one of the most significant developments in infection prevention and control inside of hospitals that we’ve seen in quite a while,” said Becky Brubaker, RN, MSN, CIC, infection preventionist, Sentara RMH Medical Center. “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 healthcare-associated infections.”

Test sites included new and old hospital towers

The first copper clinical trial was conducted in the midst of a challenging on-site replacement for Sentara Leigh Hospital, a 1970s-era facility in Norfolk, Virginia. As part of the new construction, copper-infused hard products were built into the first of two replacement bed towers and copper-infused linens were deployed. The remaining 1977 wing did not receive copper products. The trial took into account that the new tower housed mainly surgery patients, while the old tower housed mainly medicine patients with chronic conditions. Co-morbidities, demographics and other factors were taken into account in assessing the data. 

Sentara Leigh Hospital opened its second new patient tower, the West Tower, to patients in April 2015. To further assess the effectiveness of copper-infused products, a second paper is being drafted on a second clinical trial comparing the use of copper products in all 250 licensed beds in both new patient towers at Sentara Leigh Hospital against two other Sentara hospitals. One of those two other sites is Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital, built in 1965 and incrementally modernized and expanded. The other is Sentara Princess Anne Hospital, also in Virginia Beach, which opened in 2011. Results of the second clinical trial are expected to be published in 2017.

“This is not only practical, but revolutionary,” said Terry Gilliland, MD, chief medical officer for Sentara Healthcare. “This change is about the culture and commitment of Sentara Healthcare to safety, so that we don’t harm our patients. My sense is that everything we touch will have some kind of copper associated with it, from doorknobs to computer covers and devices used in patient care. It will take time, but I believe it’s inevitable.”