October 12, 2001

Poison Center continues outreach with federal grants

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Dr. Harry R. Jacobson spoke at the news conference last week. (photo by Dana Johnson)

Poison Center continues outreach with federal grants

The Middle Tennessee Poison Center has received two federal grants that will add more than $260,000 a year for two years, and $153,588 for a third year, to its non-profit coffers. The money was a nod to the center’s successes and will help fund its current operations, including development and education in 57 Middle Tennessee counties.

The money comes from the Health and Human Resources Administration’s Maternal and Child Health Bureau as part of the Poison Control Centers Stabilization and Enhancement Grant Program.

“The purpose of the grants was to take the steps to allow poison centers across the country to do their jobs because so many are having trouble financially,” said Dr. Donna Seger, assistant professor of Clinical Medicine and Emergency Medicine and medical director of the MTPC. “We have no method of making money. We answer phones, do education and outreach. These grants will help stabilize us and maintain us over the next few years.”

MTPC is the only nationally certified center in Tennessee staffed by health professionals—RNs, Pharm Ds, or MDs, all with special toxicology training—24 hours a day. From their second-floor Oxford House office, the poison specialists receive a variety of calls—from moms and dads concerned about plants their toddlers have chewed to physicians asking about drug overdoses or drug interactions. Seger is one of two board-certified toxicologists in Tennessee.

Each day at 11 p.m. the Southern Poison Center in Memphis forwards its calls to the Vanderbilt-based MTPC. This gives people in 38 additional counties access to toxicology advice. One of the grants, worth $110,000, will support that continuing effort for two years.

The other grant, $153,588 for three years, will support education and outreach programs, including translating information into Spanish. This blessing, however, comes mixed with future needs. “As we increase the number of children reached through education, we increase our call volume,” Seger said.

Also increasing the calls in 2002 will be a new federal government-sponsored toll-free number—800-222-1222—that will connect callers to the poison control center nearest them. With the combined efforts, Seger said, poison centers are expecting to have as much as a 40 percent increase in call volumes.

While many poison centers receive funding from the state, the MTPC has received most of its support from Vanderbilt—from almost 100 percent early in its inception 13 years ago to about 35 percent to 40 percent today. “Without Vanderbilt, we wouldn’t be here,” Seger said. One purpose of the grants is to hopefully spur state governments to support the centers.

MTPC asks hospitals in its primary service area for financial support. However, according to Seger, 30 percent of them, including major hospitals in Metropolitan Nashville, choose not to, despite a recent MTPC survey that showed the center, which received 43,000 calls in 2000, saved taxpayers almost $1,048,000 by preventing emergency room visits for cases of potential toxicity the Center’s specialists handled over the phone.

Questions were asked in routine follow-up calls to 1,190 people who had called MTPC during May; 623 responded.

“When we asked people what they would have done if the Poison Center were not here, 76 percent said they would go to an emergency room or their pediatrician’s office,” said MTPC director of community outreach Josephine Darwin. Almost 30 percent of the people who called said they receive state medical assistance.