Pullman's hospital is now using copper to help prevent the spread of disease

PULLMAN, WA - Hospitals around the nation are working to stop the spread of microbe simply by switching out the type of metal that's used on high-touch surfaces.

Pullman Regional Hospital showed us how it's done.

When it comes to currency, copper doesn't have much value.

But in the medical industry, copper is worth much more than cents on the dollar because it's a natural anti-microbial.

"Copper is a killer," said Pullman Regional Hospital Director of Surgical Services Ed Harrich. "It kills bacteria without having to do anything."

Pullman Regional Hospital recently received a $10,000 grant from the Copper Development Association to replace some of its most frequently touched metal surfaces with copper alloy hardware.

"If somebody touches this handle and they have C. diff, Staph, MRSA, strep on their hand, within five minutes we have about a 60% kill, with ten minutes we have over a 99% kill," said Harrich.

One of the places you'll find copper at Pullman Regional Hospital is on the push plates to open automatic doors.

"We're going for our highest touch-points that we can get into the hospital right now, which will be door handles, sink handles, light switches," said Harrich.

The appliances don't have the penny-like finish you might expect. The copper alloy comes in a variety of hues and it's mixed with metals like nickel that prevent it from tarnishing.

"It just makes all the sense in the world because it's better than any liquid microbial agent that we can use," said Pullman Regional Hospital CEO Scott Adams.

Adams said hospitals across the nation are ramping up their efforts to reduce the spread of infections.

"The strength that these viruses have now taken on has created a much greater emphasis and focus on reducing and eliminating infections," said Adams.

Adams said Pullman Regional is one of the first hospitals in the country to start using copper, but he expects the trend to catch on quick.

"It's a very simple change that can have a huge impact," said Harrich.

Now these copper alloy surfaces are intended to supplement infection control practices, not act as a substitute. And it costs a bit more than stainless steel or chrome, which is why Pullman Regional Hospital applied for a grant to start switching out some of their surfaces.