Jacksonville poison center celebrates 20 years of service


Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 5:27 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 5:27 p.m.

The Florida Poison Information Center in Jacksonville has been advising callers on what to do with their bites, stings and household chemical encounters for 20 years, and Thursday it will celebrate its history and growing mission.

Since its inception in 1992, the center has evolved to take on “the management of mass casualties, public health surveillance and a variety of toxic and environmental incidents,” as described in a press release.

Dr. Jay Schauben, the center's director since its opening, said he hopes it will continue to get the government support it needs to keep growing.

Thursday, there will be a presentation in the Learning Resource Center at the UF&Shands Jacksonville campus, and the Florida Department of Health will honor the Jacksonville campus for its collaboration with the center.

Schauben said the center makes its greatest impact by reducing hospital stays by giving callers the information they need to determine whether an emergency-room visit is warranted.

In 2011, the center received almost 56,000 calls related to poison exposure, 83 percent of which were treated without the patient needing to go to the hospital, according to the center.

After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the center took on a new role in public health surveillance.

“We can be a source for real-time data and information and provide support at a moment's notice,” Schauben explained, adding, “Government agencies saw that as a tremendous benefit.”

The center was involved in incidents including the South Florida anthrax scare, the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf, the H1N1 flu outbreak and the nuclear disaster in Japan, when the center helped monitor people coming back to the United States for radiation exposure.

The anthrax scare also led to the integration of the Jacksonville center with its sister centers in Tampa and Miami, Schauben noted. Now, if one center gets overloaded with calls, they will automatically be forwarded to another center, and the system includes a shared database.

The nationwide poison hotline has extended this system across state borders too, so that states can rely on one another for backup.

Schauben said the future of the center depends on one thing: funding.

Florida's poison control centers receive about 80 percent of funding from the state and 18 to 20 percent from the federal government.

“They are cutting and slashing without watching what they're doing,” he said. “They don't realize we're saving them close to $1 billion a year by keeping Medicaid patients out of hospitals.”

The center is available 24/7 at 1-800-222-1222. Download a free iPhone app at www.aapcc.org.

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