Construction, Health Care, and Manufacturing

Lumbermen's to distribute copper-enhanced surface

Copper's antimicrobial ability helps reduce health-care-acquired infections.

August 29, 2014
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Lumberman's copper
Countertops infused with copper oxide are a good fit for a number of high-contact areas. Photo by Rachel Weick

Recognizing an opportunity to offer a simple solution to help combat hospital-acquired infections, Grand Rapids-based Lumbermen’s Inc. is investing in a new product for the medical industry.

Lumbermen’s, an employee-owned diversified building material supplier headquartered in Grand Rapids, is investing in distribution of a new copper-enhanced product known as Cupron Enhanced EOS Surface, which can be used as a supplemental tool for standard infection-control practices in hospitals or other health care organizations.

Developed jointly by Cupron Inc. and EOS Surfaces LLC, the antimicrobial surface is infused with copper oxide, which has the ability to kill specific disease-causing bacteria.

Approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 2012 as having an efficacy of killing 99.9 percent of gram negative and gram positive bacteria within two hours of exposure, the copper-enhanced product destroys methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus, or MRSA, a common cause of health-care-acquired infections.

JoAnn Christensen, regional business manager for Lumbermen’s Cupron Enhanced EOS Surface, said the product is similar to any solid surface countertop found in residential kitchens or other facilities, except it is infused with copper.

“(Copper) is a natural antimicrobial. If you threw a bunch of pennies in a bird bath, for example, you wouldn’t see a lot of the algae forming because the copper keeps that from forming,” said Christensen. “Copper is revolutionary, especially in the medical industry, because of the big push right now — and probably one of the highest priority items in hospitals right now — to reduce their health-care-acquired infections.”

In 2011, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention conducted a prevalence study of health care-acquired infections, or HAIs, and the use of antimicrobial agents, in order to provide an updated estimate of the burden of the infections for both patients and health care organizations. Prior to the 2011 study, the CDC’s last published data was in 2007 using historical data from 2002.

The survey noted an estimated 722,000 instances of HAI-related hospitalizations during 2011, resulting in roughly 75,000 HAI patient deaths. Although the 2011 estimate had declined from the previous 1.7 million individuals impacted by infections reported by the CDC in 2007, Christensen said even an average rate of 8 percent of HAI contracted is significant when considering the amount of people coming through facility doors on a daily basis.

“It was an acceptable amount back in the day because it was hard to combat those hospital-acquired infections, but now you are seeing things like … our solid surfaces,” said Christensen. “It never loses its efficacy. It works all the time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, year after year. It continues to work when no one is in the room, so there really is no change in hospital protocol.”

Citing significant benefits in high-contact areas, Christensen said Lumbermen’s is marketing the product for a variety of surfaces touched by high volumes of individuals, such as trays, countertops and sink areas in patient rooms, front lobby or registration desks, bathrooms and emergency rooms. 

Henry Bouma, vice president of specialty products at Lumbermen’s, said that, as a distributor for Wilsonart, which has partnered with Cupron and EOS to bring the product to market, the company not only distributes the copper-enhanced product but also builds the finished product.

“We build solid surfaces and countertops. We have been making countertops for hospitals for a long time,” said Bouma. “Our goal is not to just call the hospital to get it specified, but we are also going to be making the finished product. If they say they want it in the restroom or the reception area, we can make that product.”

Although the product is close to four times the average cost of a regular countertop, Christensen said the return on investment is typically a year to a year and a half when taking into account that insurance companies are no longer reimbursing hospitals for HAIs.

“It is money that a hospital is losing with each and every patient that develops it — and not only the money but the reputation of that hospital. If you put in our surface … you may have an outlay of more money, but you are actually getting that entire surface paid back to you with the reduction of hospital-acquired infections,” said Christensen. 

“Our costs to hospitals include the surface, the fabrication of that surface, and then the installation of the product.”

The CDC released a report in 2009 noting the direct medical costs of HAIs in U.S. hospitals can range from $28.4 billion to $45 billion, taking into account the consumer price index adjustments for urban consumers and inpatient hospital services.

The estimated cost of the copper-infused material is $120 per foot, including fabrication and installation, which is comparable to quartz countertops often used in residential homes that retail at a price of $100 per foot, according to Bouma.

With exclusive rights to sell the product in Michigan, Indiana and parts of western Ohio, Lumbermen’s is working with architectural firms and hospital systems to introduce the product to the medical industry.

The company is expecting to attend the Oct. 9 and 10 conference for the Michigan Society of Infection Prevention and Control/Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology Great Lakes at the Crown Plaza in Lansing to display the product.

Bouma said the feedback on the product has been positive.

“As we have been talking to some architectural firms and hospitals, we have been well received. They have called us back for meetings,” said Bouma. “It is definitely a hot button. We are excited about what this could do for our community.”

The response from West Michigan area health organizations also has been positive, according to Christensen.

“Here in western Michigan there are some new builds going on. We are meeting with the architects who are responsible for those new builds. I am probably going to be meeting with the hospitals in the next couple of weeks,” said Christensen. “They are all very receptive to this. … This is kind of a big deal.”

Founded in Grand Rapids in 1955, Lumbermen’s now has roughly 300 employees and locations in Michigan, Indiana and Ohio. 

With expertise in fabrication, installation, manufacturing and distributing, Lumbermen’s produces approximately $150 million in annual sales and is 100 percent employee owned.

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