Scott Muir, employed by the Tennessee Poison Center since 1992 and a 20-year veteran of the American Association of Poison Control Centers, takes a call on the poison center hotline.
The Tennessee Poison Center, a program of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, recently received the 1 millionth call to its hotline service for poison emergency and information calls. The center was established in 1988 and received 18,000 calls in its initial year.
Since 1988, the Tennessee Poison Center has grown from a regional poison control center to a statewide center providing programs to 6 million Tennessee residents in 95 counties.
The U.S. Congress established the nationwide Poison Help Hotline for poison emergency and information calls – 800-222-1222. Callers dialing this hotline from anywhere in the United States will reach the closest poison control center. All calls placed in Tennessee are routed to the Tennessee Poison Center. Calls are answered by poison specialists, who include registered nurses, pharmacists and physicians. These specialists answer between 350-375 calls each day. In 2006, the Tennessee Poison Center received 127,000 calls from health care professionals and the public, and the center became the sixth busiest poison control center in the country.
Medical backup is provided by Donna Seger, medical director, and Saralyn Williams. Both of these physicians are board certified in emergency medicine and toxicology. They are two of the three toxicology physicians practicing in Tennessee.
“Tennessee Poison Center is a perfect example of an effective and efficient health care service,” Seger said. “It has been estimated that more than $7 in unnecessary health care expenditures is averted for each $1 invested in a poison control center.
“In fact, poison control centers are equal to immunizations in public health delivery by significantly reducing health care costs and costs to citizens.” A recent study estimated that the Tennessee Poison Center saves the state more than $1.6 million in health care costs annually.
The Tennessee Poison Center provides poison education statewide through a collaborative effort with the University of Tennessee Extension Service. Extension educators provide community-based poison prevention programs in their respective counties. Last year, more than 1,000 programs were presented to 45,000 Tennesseans. In addition, the Tennessee Poison Center distributed 400,000 pieces of poison prevention literature. This partnership won a prestigious nonprofit award in 2005, the Frist Foundation Award of Achievement.
In addition to the hotline service and education programs, the Tennessee Poison Center is the only organization in Tennessee that provides statewide surveillance for chemical and biological terrorism.
“Tennessee Poison Center, along with the other 60 U.S. poison control centers, sends symptom data to Washington, D.C., every 15 minutes to monitor for unusual activity. This data can be used to identify illnesses resulting from intentional or unintentional exposures,” Seger said.
The Tennessee Poison Center receives funding from a variety of sources, including the Tennessee Department of Health, federal grants, 18 United Way agencies, hospitals throughout Tennessee and individual donations.