Manitoba’s largest hospital is locking some of its hand sanitizer dispensers to try to cut down on theft and potential abuse.
The move came after the Health Sciences Centre in Winnipeg realized as many as 116 bags of alcohol-based sanitizer were disappearing monthly from its wall dispensers.
Craig Doerksen, divisional director of facility management and maintenance services, said hospital maintenance workers came up with a design to lock up sanitizer dispensers to stop people from stealing the one-litre bags from inside.
Police say people are misusing sanitizer by adding salt to it and then drinking the liquid, which poses serious health risks.
“Theft has been a big issue,” said Doerksen. “We’ve been tracking that.”
The hospital has about 150-175 dispensers in common areas like elevator lobbies and entrances, as well as an estimated 400 dispensers in more private areas like patient rooms and clinic offices.
The trial project will focus on padlocking 20-25 of the highest-targeted dispensers in public areas so officials can see if they can stem thefts.
It costs about $25-$40 to modify each dispenser.
“It’s theft of property. While it may not be viewed as high-value property, nonetheless, it is theft,” Doerksen stressed.
“It’s unfortunately a product that can be misused.”
Police said the growth of hand-sanitizer abuse came after the wake of the H1N1 virus last April when the dispensers suddenly became ubiquitous.
However, Doerksen said in early 2009 the hospital already had started installing the 150-plus public dispensers before H1N1 hit.
But locking up the sanitizer might not solve the theft issue, Doerksen conceded.
“If we lock the containers up, that might just mean the person kicks the whole thing off the wall and steals the product anyways, and now I have a broken wall to fix in addition to a dispenser,” he remarked.
He said it’s unknown why people are taking the sanitizer, but staff haven’t found evidence like empty bags around the hospital indicating people are drinking it there.
An HSC spokeswoman said they’ll also be introducing signs on some public dispensers which tell people sanitizer is for hand-use only and not for drinking.