A move last week by the budget-slashing U.S. House of Representatives could cost the territory its access to Poison Control Center assistance.
The territory uses the Poison Control Center in Jacksonville, Fla., which the center’s director said gets $30,000 a year in federal funding to provide help for the territory’s residents.
“The U.S.V.I. does not put in any money at all,” said Dr. Jay Schauben, the center’s director.
He said that the $30,000 was eliminated from the budget.
The House decimated the budget for all 57 Poison Control Centers across the country, from $29 million to $2 million, which Schauben said means many centers will have to close.
“It will be enough to keep the 800 number running,” he said, referring to the toll-free hotline number that provides help.
The Poison Control Centers also provide educational services to help prevent poisoning.
The Jacksonville Poison Control Center, which Schauben said comes under the auspices of the Florida Health Department, works with the territory’s Health Department to provide phone and educational services to the territory. Health Department spokesman Eunice Bedminster did not return a phone call requesting comment.
In addition to the $30,000 in federal funding for service to the territory, Schauben said the state of Florida kicks in 85 percent of its total $1.9 million budget to pay for services to its residents. He said the federal government pays the other 15 percent – $500,000 – for Florida residents.
“I can’t use money from the state of Florida to cover you,” he said, referring to the Virgin Islands.
He said the drastic funding cut doesn’t leave enough money to keep enough staff on board to maintain the center’s certification. Without certification, he said the center will have to close.
There may be some hope to save the funding cuts if the U.S. Senate, when it takes up the bill, decides to reinstate the funding, Schauben said.
Schauben said that the Poison Control Centers save money in the long run because they are able to advise people on the phone without them going to the hospital.
“We treat 83 percent of the people at home,” he said.
A press release from the American Association of Poison Control Centers indicates that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, accidental poisoning is the second-leading cause of unintentional injury death in the United States, trailing only automobile accidents.
U.S. poison centers took more than four million calls in fiscal year 2009, offering free, confidential information and professional medical advice to those exposed to poisons ranging from carbon monoxide to snake bites to food poisoning.
If you need help, call the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222.