The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Local News

March 11, 2014

Cuts could close poison center

24/7/365, office gets 42,000 calls per year

CHARLESTON — With impending state and federal budget cuts, the West Virginia Poison Center is on the brink of shutdown.

Community Outreach Coordinator Carissa McBurney said the Poison Center is looking at 7.5 percent cuts from both the state and federal budgets, and the center was already running on a “bare minimum” of staff.

The center offers assessment and emergency treatment advice on accidental exposures to medications and household substances; plant ingestions; snake, spider and other insect bites and stings; chemical spills; occupational exposures; drug overdoses and poisonings of pets.

McBurney said the center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, including holidays, by medical experts specially trained in poisonings.

Currently, eight full-time nurses and one part-time grant writer are employed, as well as McBurney, who has been part-time for several years now.

She said common questions could be anything from a child ingesting a laundry detergent pod to an elderly parent taking too much medicine by mistake or even exposure to carbon monoxide fumes.

But if the center shuts down, where would West Virginians call for answers to these questions?

McBurney said there isn’t a national poison center, so if the West Virginia center shuts down, those calls would have to be diverted to another state.

But with other states also facing budget cuts, additional calls may overload another center, so West Virginia would effectively have nowhere to call with poison control questions.

The WVPC receives 42,000 calls each year, many of which are from everyday residents, but 35 percent of those calls come from medical professionals, such as emergency room physicians and pediatricians.

McBurney said not all doctors specialize in poisoning, so the WVPC is their go-to resource. Doctors can also rely on the WVPC for the most up-to-date poison management recommendations.

The WVPC was established in 1979 and serves all 55 counties in the state. If the center is closed, McBurney said West Virginia would be the only state in the nation without a poison center.

“People don’t think of what happens if we’re not here. This would be a complete loss.”

The state budget is being finalized this week, so McBurney is encouraging everyone to call Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s office or reach out to local legislators.

Sen. Daniel Hall, D-Wyoming, said for the most part, there are proposed standard cuts across the board, but legislators are fighting to keep funding for prioritized entities.

“We’ve made our wishes known that we would like for Theatre West Virginia and the Poison Center to be back in the budget,” Hall said. “Common sense alone will tell you why the Poison Center is important. They provide a valuable service and it’s important for public safety and public health.”

He said the state is in a tight budget year, and there is never enough money to fund everything, but he will continue to push for Poison Center funding.

Hall said he expects the budget to be finalized Wednesday or Thursday.

As McBurney said, “You never know when you may need the West Virginia Poison Center.”

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