Budget cuts are about to make California the only state without emergency poison control services for its residents and medical professionals.
The San Francisco-based California Poison Control System has managed more than 2 million cases since its creation in 1997. Operating out of four sites around the state, clinical pharmacists, registered nurses, physicians and poison information providers answer the toll-free phones around the clock, handling around 900 cases a day; a board-certified physician toxicologist is always available to consult with doctors seeking expert, current, specialized advice in managing poison cases.
“We’re able to quickly assess when people call us that many callers are calling about things that are minor or negligible,” executive director Stuart Heard said, thus saving California an estimated $70 million in unnecessary emergency response and ER costs last year – but no more.
CPCS’s state budget line has been zeroed out for the coming budget year, meaning that hotline will go silent in September — and meaning all those cases will get shifted to 911 lines and hospital emergency rooms. Heard estimates there’ll be an additional 164,000 ER visits per year, and those overworked doctors and nurses no longer will be able to dial up the poison-control experts as they have in the past. “We’re just shifting this over to other systems that are less prepared than we are.”
Heard said the CPCS budget for the current fiscal year is between $11 million and $12 million, with California paying $5.9 million and the rest coming from the federal government or other service contracts.
“More than 50 percent of poisonings happen to children 5 years old and under and more than 90 percent happen at home,” he said. “Without the services that we provide, California’s children will be at risk. This is why we are urging residents to pick up the phone and call the Governor’s office and their legislators to ask that the funding for the California Poison Control System be returned to the budget.”