Ann Slattery, DrPH, RN, RPh, DABAT, is director of the Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s of Alabama. She is available for interviews about posion prevention tips for parents and caregivers.
The Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s of Alabama celebrated its 60th year in 2018. Founded in 1958, the RPCC is the 14th oldest poison control center in America.
Ann Slattery is the director of the RPCC, as well as a pharmacist and nurse. She also holds graduate degrees in environmental health and toxicology. “I’m so proud and excited about this tremendous milestone,” Slattery said.
From Humble Beginnings
“The chief pediatric resident, Dr. Don Palmer, started the poison center,” Slattery said. At that time, Children’s of Alabama took calls from other physicians around the state. “Eventually, the pharmacy at Children’s of Alabama took over the poison center.” In 1978, they established a toll-free number for all Alabamians to use.
That toll-free number would be superseded by a national toll-free number, 1-800-222-1222. Operating like 911, no matter where you are when you dial it, you are directed to your local poison control center.
“When we first started the statewide 800 number, approximately 85 to 90 percent of our calls were from the public, and only 10 to 15 percent were from healthcare professionals,” Slattery said. “Now, 30 percent of our calls come from healthcare professionals in emergency departments.”
Slattery attributes this shift to two factors. First, the public is able to get information from other sources, such as the internet. Second, emergency departments are increasingly having to deal with more dangerous medications.
Who Is Calling?
“Fifty-three percent of our calls involve children less than six years of age,” Slattery said. “If you look at all pediatric patients age 18 and under, that makes up 66 percent of our calls.” She also points out that over the past four years, they have seen a 14 percent increase in calls involving the 65 and up population.
For the older population, calls are typically about therapeutic errors, such as double dosing or taking a spouse’s mediation. “It can be confusing when you have all these medications and pill planners, and then you may be taking care of a spouse who also has that many medications.”
As for the children, calls mainly revolve around cleaning products and cosmetics. “Those are the top two,” Slattery said. From skin and eye contact to ingesting or inhaling, the RPCC is on hand to document the case and provide advice on how to handle it.
The RPCC is also able to prevent unnecessary trips to the emergency department. “One of our claims to fame is that we keep 82 percent of all ages at home,” states Slattery. “We’re able to keep 90 percent of those younger than age six at home and then follow up to make sure they’re doing well.”
Reaching for the Future
The RPCC has a very active outreach program. “Our staff members, on their off time, go out into the community and do health fairs and community events. We do public education, and we’re very proud of that,” Slattery said.
They are also working on a program for the visually impaired, and they now have an app for all things poison. “It’s called Poison Perils, where you can look at poisonous snakes, poisonous insects, and poisonous and non-poisonous plants and a few household items. There are no treatment recommendations on the app. It’s just for identification and just to keep people aware,” Slattery said.
Building on a solid base of experience and service while reaching for the future, the Regional Poison Control Center at Children’s of Alabama remains a vibrant and vital lifeline for tens of thousands of Alabamians each year.