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The downside of inadequate poison center funding

Posted: March 9th, 2010 | Tags: , , , , | No Comments »

What is it going to cost you?

Make no doubt about it; these are tough times for non-profit health services, especially those that have a limited ability to charge for their services.  A few weeks ago, I wrote about the financial benefits a poison center provides to its designated region.  As we work through social media, traditional media and other methods unlock support for the IPC, I am continually asked, “So what?  If your funding is not restored, what is it going to cost me?”

Over the past few weeks, I have learned that while I am personally excited and enjoy talking about the upside of what poison centers provide, government agencies, donors and the media want to know the downside if we are not provided appropriate funding.  They want to know, in essence, what is the price of failure.

The easiest way for me to answer that is through the concept of our mission:

  • Call Center Services will suffer:
    • The Illinois Poison Center is one of the busiest in the nation with over 100,000 calls a year averaging almost 300 calls per day.  Since November, 2008 we have closed 4 clinical staff positions.  Our wait times are already increasing and will be even longer if we lose more staff.  It is estimated that in an emergency, callers will hang up somewhere between 20 and 40 seconds and go to a local emergency department for help.  In many cases they will consume unnecessary and expensive health care resources.  The financial value of poison centers through cost avoidance will be degraded and everyone in the state will collectively pay for those increase costs.
    • Poisoning is the second leading cause of injury-related death in the US behind automobile accidents.  The increasing severity of poisoning has lead to a 30% increase in calls from hospitals in the past several years.  Nearly 18,000 times a year, physicians and nurses in Illinois call the poison center requesting information to treat poisoned patients in their care.  For critically ill patients who need time sensitive treatment, a prolonged wait time will mean the difference between life and death.  We will all pay for poor medical outcomes and prolonged hospital stays far in excess of providing adequate funding for the Illinois Poison Center.
  • Professional Education will be decreased:
    • The IPC has partnerships and provides rotations to four pharmacy schools and several medical schools in Illinois.  With the reduction in staff, we are already unable to accommodate the demand.  The education of the next generation of health care professionals, who will take care of you and me in the future, is being compromised.
    • With the loss of grant funding, the IPC has already eliminated a medical director position that was dedicated to educating practicing medical professionals in the treatment of poisoned patients and HAZMAT victims.  No other organization in the state has stepped up to fill that void.
  • Public Education efforts will decline:
    • The Illinois Poison Center relies on community organizations and volunteers to provide the local poison awareness and prevention education throughout the state.  The IPC has a dedicated network of education outreach satellites based in hospitals throughout the state.  With the loss of funding the satellite system is at risk of closure.  These regional satellites serve as the local expertise to the community organizations and local volunteer educators.  Without the experience and leadership of the satellite coordinators, the public education efforts will decline and quality may suffer.
    • A weak outreach effort will mean a decline in awareness of poison prevention education –an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure—as well as a decline in the awareness of poison center services.  The financial value of a poison center is unlocked by the utilization of the poison center; increasing and sustaining awareness of the IPC is a key component to maximizing the savings a poison center can provide.
  • Surveillance for emerging threats efforts and research will be compromised:
    • The poison center often receives the sentinel notice of a potential public health outbreak.  Harried staff may not recognize the problem and an event may go undetected which will mean additional people may be poisoned.
    • Poison Centers are the data repositories of acute poisoning in their regions.  The IPC has an electronic database of close to 1,000,000 poison exposures.  It is a rich source of research that is unrivaled in the state.  As the call center staff declines, the data entry and coding of cases into the database will not be as accurate due to time constraints and the integrity of the data will be affected.  As the medical staff continues to shrink, research on that database will also shrink.

The Illinois Poison Center mission is multi-faceted; we are much more than a hotline.  Every phase of our public health mission is now at risk.  So if poison center funding is not restored, what is it going to cost you?  There are many avenues in the execution of our mission that arrive to the same place: It is going to cost money, health and lives.

Until next Tuesday,


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  2. Welcome to the Illinois Poison Center Blog
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  4. CBS Channel 2 Reports on IPC State Funding Issue

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