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Oregon Poison Center to close doors

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  • Oregon Poison Center to close doors

    PORTLAND, Ore. - For Oregon, Alaska and much of Nevada, the
    Oregon Poison Center is the first line of defense for accidental
    and intentional poisonings. It also provides invaluable,
    hard-to-find information and expertise for physicians and emergency
    workers treating poisoned patients, researchers and the public.
    But the poison center is scheduled to shut its doors at the end
    of this month, following a national trend of centers crippled or
    closed by budget cuts. Oregon Health & Sciences University is
    cutting the program due to reduced state funding and Medicaid
    Officials estimate closing the center could cost up to seven
    times more in unnecessary medical measures than it currently takes
    to run the $1.35 million operation.
    Established in 1978, the Oregon Poison Center has a free 24-hour
    hot line staffed by seven toxicologists and 20 registered nurses
    from its Portland base at OHSU. The center fielded almost 70,000
    calls in 2002.
    About 14 percent of those calls came from Alaska and 11 counties
    in northern Nevada, where the center has contracts to provide
    poison help and education. Neither state has its own poison control
    center, as their small populations wouldn't justify a full-time,
    fully staffed operation, said Sandy Giffin, director of the Oregon
    Poison Center.
    Dr. Guy Gansert, medical director of the Reno, Nev.-based Washoe
    Health System, said the health services network relies solely on
    the Oregon Poison Center for expert poison advice.
    "They've done such a great job for us (that) we haven't gone
    out and explored other control centers for some time," Gansert
    said. "Most of the service could be provided anywhere, but it
    makes it a little nicer when the toxicologist can come down and
    The Oregon center began offering its services out of state in
    1994 to maintain operations, Giffin said. Last year, it received
    $180,000 from the two states.
    OHSU provides $1.28 million of the center's regular budget, the
    Legislature $90,000. A federal grant allocates further funds for
    poison prevention and education programs.
    Now, the university is unable to support the poison center
    without sacrificing other programs, Giffin said.
    Similar situations exist throughout the nation, said Rose Ann
    Soloway, associate director of the American Association of Poison
    Control Centers in Washington, D.C.
    In Hershey, Pa., the Penn State Poison Center closed June 15
    when its host institution, the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center,
    cut off funding.
    That's a risky move, Soloway said. In 1988, the Louisiana Drug
    and Poison Information Center in Monroe, La., shut down for nine
    months due to budget worries. When it reopened, she said, the state
    found the cost of rerouting calls tripled that of operation.
    Giffin estimated the Oregon Poison Center saves about $7 in
    unnecessary health care costs for every dollar spent. The center
    spends about $24 to handle a poison exposure call, compared to the
    national average of $44.84, and uses nurses instead of pharmacists
    to save money.
    Because the Oregon Poison Center handles most of its calls
    entirely by telephone, Giffin said, it saves money that would
    otherwise be spent calling 9-1-1, dispatching an ambulance,
    transporting victims to the hospital and treating them in the
    emergency room.
    To salvage the poison center, Rep. Rob Patridge, R-Medford, is
    sponsoring a bill that would appropriate 9-1-1 funds. Otherwise,
    Patridge said, "It's going to burden not only the 9-1-1 system but
    the emergency services and medical systems as well."
    House Bill 2709 is currently before the Legislature's Ways and
    Means Committee.
    Without the center and its toll-free number, poison victims
    would need to seek emergency services or physicians to handle those
    concerns. Most of those aren't readily equipped to answer
    toxicology questions.
    "The most worrisome thing is, there are people (exposed to
    poison) who will say, 'I don't know. I'll just wait and see what
    happens,"' Giffin said. "But when symptoms occur, there's already
    a problem. The damage is being done."
    On the Net:
    House Bills 2709

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