Copper Ally

Copper Ally

6 years, 11 months ago

Ellen McCulley, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB

By Ellen McCulley, AIA, LEED AP, NCARB
Nelson Design, Inc.

Healthcare-associated infections (HAI) pose a significant challenge to the United States healthcare industry as an estimated one out of every 25 patients admitted to hospitals acquire healthcare-associated infections. Recent studies have explored the inherent ability of copper alloys to inhibit microbial growth and their potential application in healthcare settings to supplement infection control measures. 

Copper alloy surfaces have been shown to continuously reduce the number of bacteria, yeast, fungus, and viruses and perform significantly better than other traditionally used materials. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recognizes that copper alloys kill greater than 99.9% of bacteria within two hours and continually kill more than 99% of bacteria when cleaned regularly. Currently the EPA has registered over 350 alloys.

In the fall of 2016 the American Journal of Infection Control published a study conducted at Grinnell Regional Medical Center (GRMC), a 49-bed hospital located in Grinnell, Iowa. The rate of HAIs at GRMC is too low for statistical comparison, so the study investigated the bacteria concentrations found at high touch surfaces near the patients and their providers. In the study half of the patient rooms in the medical-surgical suite were outfitted with copper alloy materials, and the remaining control rooms maintained their existing non copper materials. Samples were taken while the rooms were both occupied or unoccupied. The study compared the bacteria burdens on a total of twenty surfaces over a twelve month period and found that the copper alloy materials harbored significantly lower concentrations of bacteria upon terminal cleaning. The authors of the study concluded that copper alloys can significantly decrease the amount of bacteria found on high-touch surfaces and thus felt the incorporation of copper alloys into a larger infection control strategy in rural hospitals is validated.

A wide variety of architectural copper alloy products is now available on the market; including door handles, push plates, railings, casework pulls, faucet handles, and sink basins. Other options include IV poles, nurse call buttons, bed rails, and overbed tables.

According to the Copper Development Association, the cost of outfitting high-touch surfaces with copper alloy runs between $7,700 and $15,000 for each patient room. A more modest retrofit of door levels, casework pulls, and sink handles would cost between $1,000 and $1,500.

While some hospitals have been eager to begin implementation of copper alloy elements based on findings thus far, others choose to wait for additional research to support the added cost.

Ellen McCulley graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Architecture from Iowa State University where she received the Pella Architectural Award from the Department of Architecture. She is a registered architect in Iowa and Illinois. Ms. McCulley joined Carl A. Nelson & Company in 2012. Learn more by calling Ellen at 319-754-8415, or write to