July 27, 2009: Does the closing of the California Poison Control System have implications for Tennessee?

As many of you are aware, the California Poison Control System is scheduled to close in September 2009. This closing is due to lack of funding, primarily from the state of California. Several of you have asked, “What will happen in California?” and “What are the implications for Tennessee?”


If the California system closes, there will be no poison control service in that state. No other poison center will be picking up the coverage. If a person calls the poison center, there will be a recording that states there is no poison control coverage in California and instructs the caller to go to the closest emergency room in the event of a poison emergency. 


Cutting poison center funds will translate into increased medical spending as people turn to emergency rooms and other health care providers for help. When poison control services were not available in another state for two years, the number of patients going to a health care facility quadrupled. It is penny wise and pound foolish to abandon poison center funding.


Without a poison center, there is no surveillance for biochemical terrorism.  In all poison centers, data for syndromic surveillance is uploaded to a national center and baseline data has been established.  In most states (such as Tennessee) this is the only method of 24 hour surveillance.


Poison Centers are funded through a combination of federal, state, and private sources with the support of a host hospital or university. Tennessee Poison Center is a program of Vanderbilt University Medical Center. Tennessee Poison Center receives funding from the Tennessee Department of Health, federal HRSA grants, 18 United Way agencies, foundations, and individual donations. 77% of Tennessee hospitals support Tennessee Poison Center as members of our Hospital Consortium. 


Few realize the impact of any type of funding cut.  One of the criteria for accreditation is the number of poison specialists answering exposure phone calls. Loss of funds decreases the number of poison specialists, which causes the poison center to lose accreditation.  Loss of accreditation results in loss of federal funds.  Therefore, the Poison Center closes. What a domino effect!


Although the FY 2010 state funding was in jeopardy, Tennessee Poison Center will receive the same level of state funding in FY 2010. Tennessee Poison Center saves lives and saves valuable health care dollars. We appreciate your support of our services and your advocacy for our critical role in health care.  And we will continue to provide the highest standard of poison control service for 6 million Tennessee residents in 95 counties. 


Question prepared by: Donna Seger, M.D.  Medical Toxicologist


I am interested in any questions you would like answered in the Question of the Week.  Please email me with any suggestion at donna.seger@vanderbilt.edu


Donna Seger, M.D.

Medical Director

Tennessee Poison Center

Website: www.tnpoisoncenter.org

Poison Help Hotline: 1-800-222-1222