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'Nothing can live on copper': Ontario hospital fights bacteria with high-tech toilet seats

High-tech additions including motion-sensor U-V lights, and copper lined surfaces are designed to kill bacteria, and prevent patients from acquiring infections in hospital.

New technology could reduce the risk and spread of infection

The high-tech additions, like this copper-infused toilet seat, are designed to kill bacteria and prevent patients from acquiring infections in hospital. (Jory Pritchard-Kerr)

It might sound like something out of a science fiction movie — hospitals with motion-sensor UV lights, and copper-lined surfaces.

But this type of technology is coming to the Collingwood General and Marine Hospital in Collingwood, Ont., which is about 146 kilometres northwest of Toronto on Lake Huron.

"Because we are in such close quarters, it puts our patients at higher risk of infection," Jory Pritchard-Kerr, executive director of the hospital foundation, explained to Wei Chen, host of CBC's Ontario Morning.

The high tech additions are designed to kill bacteria, and prevent patients from acquiring infections in hospital.

Pritchard-Kerr said they found the technology through Class 1 Inc., a medical equipment supplier, and tried it out in the emergency department when the department was renovated two years ago. 

They found a significant decrease in hospital-acquired infection rates in that department.

'Nothing can live on copper'

In 2018, the hospital foundation launched a $1-million campaign to repair and paint all of its patient rooms, but those plans have changed since the hospital struck up a partnership with Class 1, which is providing the technology for a fraction of the cost.
The bathrooms will feature smart sinks with motion sensors, which produce ozonated water, something Pritchard- Kerr said is more effective than bleach in terms of killing bacteria. (Jory Pritchard-Kerr)

The hospital will outfit all 58 in-patient bathrooms and public bathrooms with ultraviolet lights equipped with motion sensors that will bathe the room in a bacteria-killing light when it's not occupied.

The bathrooms will also include copper-infused toilet seats. 

"Nothing can live on copper. They can't live or breed. It basically breaks down the membrane of the bacteria," Pritchard-Kerr noted.

The bathrooms will feature smart sinks with motion sensors, which produce ozonated water, something Pritchard- Kerr said is more effective than bleach in terms of killing bacteria.

Five of the patient rooms will have UV technology throughout the room. A motion sensor will keep track of human movement, which will allow the patient or caregiver to push a button when leaving the room to have it bathed in UV light.

Overhaul costing about $1.2M

In addition to the light, these trial rooms will also have copper-infused surfaces. 

"We'll also have copper-infused wall coverings; all of our touch plates and door handles, patient overbed tables, and the bedrails will also be copper infused," explained Pritchard-Kerr. "We're taking every opportunity to make sure bacteria can not live or breed in those areas."

Pritchard-Kerr said there will still be hospital staff cleaning the rooms daily because "light doesn't clean up spills," but combining regular cleaning with the new technology will likely lead to a reduced infection rate.

The total cost of the overhaul is about $1.2 million. 

Pritchard-Kerr said they've already raised the first $1 million, thanks to the community, and are working on raising the remaining $200,000.

Pritchard-Kerr recognizes Collingwood General Hospital is an aging facility and they're awaiting a new hospital to be built. 

So why spend the money? 

"We're not going to let this old, crowded facility stop us from being innovative."

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