Among the 70 government programs that would have their state funding eliminated in Gov. Matt Bevin’s new two-year budget proposal is Kentucky’s only poison control center, which has received $729,000 in each of the past two fiscal years to serve all 120 counties in the state.

Norton Children’s Hospital operates the Kentucky Poison Control Center under contract from the Kentucky Cabinet of Health and Family Services, with its staff fielding calls at all hours of every day across Kentucky to the nationwide poison help number.

Maggie Roetker, the spokeswoman for Norton Healthcare, tells IL that the $729,000 of annual state funding that would be eliminated in Bevin’s budget proposal would amount to 43 percent of its $1.7 million annual budget. The federal government provides $234,000, while Norton has provided the remaining balance to keep the center operating.

Asked how this cut would affect the ability of the poison control center to serve Kentuckians with an emergency, Roetker only said in a statement that “our team will reach out to state policy leaders about the importance of funding this critical program.”

According to its website, the Kentucky Poison Control Center website is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days a year by pharmacists, physicians board certified in medical toxicology and nurses nationally certified as specialists in poison information.

In addition to answering the questions of callers and responding to emergencies involving possible poison, the center bills itself as a way for Kentucky residents to save money, as 75 percent of the calls it receives can be managed without a visit to a hospital emergency room.

According to Norton’s current service contract with the state, the Kentucky Poison Control Center fields approximately 70,000 callers a year through the hotline, in addition to providing “valuable community-based education programs for Kentucky consumers and health professionals and provides rotation training of medical, pharmacy and nursing students in toxicology.”

The contract also states that it saves Kentucky residents more than $10 million a year by diverting three out of four patients from an emergency room, as well as $3 million to 5 million in savings per year by consulting patients already hospitalized by a poison to decrease the time of their stay and reduce costs by more than $1,000 per patient.

According to a news release from the American Association of Poison Control Centers on Tuesday — the same day that Bevin made his budget address — there is an increased threat of exposure to highly concentrated laundry pods, as teenagers have recently begun a fad of posting videos in which they ingest the packets.

While a large majority of the over 50,000 calls to poison control centers relating to laundry pods over the past five years involves the unintentional misuse by children 5 and under, AAPCC stated that cases of intentional ingestion by teenagers had spiked in the first two weeks of this year, already matching the total from all of 2016.

Doug Hogan, the spokesman for the Cabinet of Health and Family Services, did not respond to multiple emails and voicemails from IL seeking information about how these proposed cuts would affect to services provided by the Kentucky Poison Control Center.

Joe Sonka
Joe Sonka is a staff writer at Insider Louisville focusing on government, politics, education and public safety. He is a former news editor and staff writer at LEO Weekly and has also freelanced for The Nation and ThinkProgress. He has won first place awards from the Louisville Metro chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists in the categories of Health Reporting, Enterprise Reporting, Government/Politics, Minority/Women’s Affairs Reporting, Continuing Coverage and Best Blog. Email him at [email protected]