Come July, the state may no longer have a poison control center. On April 1, the Illinois Poison Control gave its 90 days' notice to the Illinois Department of Public Health about the possible closing of the center if sustainable funding is not secured, according to the IPC's website. We analyze what the closing of the state's only poison center would mean.
It can be a terrifying experience for parents when a child swallows dishwashing liquid or a teenager overdoses on prescription drugs. Fortunately, help is a call away. Parents can call the Illinois Poison Center hotline to learn the next steps they should take.
But that may not be an option for very long.
The nation’s oldest poison center, Illinois Poison Center, could have its phone lines unplugged June 30, if it isn’t able to close a funding gap left by an annual $1.5 million decrease in public funding each year since 2009.
With poisoning as a leading cause of injury related deaths, the IPC manages more than 80,000 poison cases each year. The closing of IPC could leave a significant number of people without immediate help, including the general public.
Among the hundreds of calls the center receives each day more than half are from the public, with many of those calls concerning young children.
Dr. Christina Hantsch, a toxicologist at Loyola Medicine, is concerned about where Illinois residents will turn to if the poison center closes.
“For the general public, if there is no poison center, there’s a loss of education and prevention that poison centers provide,” she said. “The impact of that loss is unknown.”
Health care professionals will be greatly impacted as well.
“Almost 30 percent of our calls come from health care officials and hospitals,” said Carol DesLauriers, IPC operations director. “So the state really relies on us to care for their patients.”
The IPC receives funding from hospitals, but, in an effort to stay open, the center is looking for a more permanent funding option than the current public-private partnerships.
State Sen. Don Harmon (D-Oak Park) is pushing legislation that would repurpose funds that are already collected by cellphone companies for 911 calls. These funds collect 13.75 cents from each 911 call, and the proposed legislation would use 2 cents of that fee to go toward funding the poison center.
Parents and health care professionals are not the only ones hoping for a permanent solution to keep the center’s doors open, so are IPC’s employees. Pharmacists, doctors, and nurses make up the center’s 26 employees who could soon be out of a job.
Art Kubic, a pharmacist who has been with the IPC for eight years, is trying to remain positive.
“That’s going to be interesting,” Kubic said of what he would do next. “I would be giving up a job I love. I would probably go back to doing clinical at a hospital. I’m still trying to be optimistic.”
“Hearing the relief from a parent when we helped them out,” Kubic said of what he would miss most about his job.
The clock is ticking to stabilize the center and continue to provide parents that relief. If the Illinois Poison Center closes its doors at the end of June, Illinois would become the only state without a poison center.
--Timeline by Kristen Thometz