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Florida poison information center nurses provide advice to callers

A toddler gulps down a detergent pod. An older adult takes her antihypertensive twice. A rattlesnake bites a construction worker. No matter the poison, Florida Poison Information Center nurses quickly advise worried parents and consumers and healthcare first responders and providers unsure how to proceed
with treatment.

“Poison control centers have been called one of the most successful public health programs in the U.S., second only to childhood immunizations in reducing illness and injury to the public,” said Charisse Webb, RN, CSPI, a 16-year veteran of the phone lines at the poison information center at Tampa General Hospital. “The information we provide is simple, and we
are accessible.”

The 18 center nurses and other health professionals field an average of 170 calls daily to the 24-hour, toll-free hotline. Most calls come in at dinnertime, but the nurses pick up at all hours. They offer advice and call back to follow up during the first couple of hours. For a snake bite, they may check in with the health team for a couple of days.

“We get many serious calls from physicians, ARNPs and nurses caring for poisoned patients,” said JoAnn Chambers-Emerson, BSN, RN, CSPI, educator and a 29-year employee of the Tampa center. The center’s nurses complete complex assessments telephonically, and “recommend the medical treatment and antidotes for poisoned patients,” she said.

Tampa center details

JoAnn Chambers-Emerson, RN, the Poison Control Center’s educator, visits businesses, healthcare professionals and schools around the state, giving presentations on a variety of poison control topics.

The Tampa center covers calls in 21 central Florida counties. It is one of three centers in the Florida Poison Information Center Network, each located at a Level 1 trauma center. The nurses at Tampa are employees of Tampa General Hospital. The center receives funding from the Florida Department of Health and the federal Health Resources Services Administration. The American Association of Poison Control Centers has certified each center as a Regional Poison Control Center, and the centers share data.

Center staff documents all calls, which provide a reference for future calls. Every three minutes, the coded information uploads to a national server. The system tracks trends and watches for clusters of similar calls and will notify the nurses when any occur.

“We are one of the first agencies to see bad products or drugs, because people call us to tell us they got sick,” Chambers-Emerson said. The center then contacts healthcare professionals and the manufacturers about the calls. The center receives queries about pets that may have ingested poison and it will try to assist the caller.

“Eighty percent of our patients can be managed at home,” Webb said. “If we weren’t here, they would be clogging up emergency rooms or doing something that isn’t necessary.”

But the nurses will call 9-1-1 if they think it’s necessary. For instance, Webb stayed on the line with two separate callers, who had attempted suicide, but did not want to die alone. As they become more somnalent, Webb was able to find out where they were. First responders reached both patients in time. In another case, Webb identified an organophosphate pesticide overdose, and the paramedics were able to start the antidote en route to the hospital.

In addition to responding to calls, nurses on a career ladder can participate in research, write case studies for annual toxicology conferences, chair unit committees and participate in hospital committees, Chambers-Emerson said. The nurses must receive certification after two years on the job. They become specialists in toxicology, are able to direct and calm lay people and assist healthcare professionals caring for patients with perplexing exposures.

“People think all our answers are on the computer, algorithms that we just read, and that’s so not true,” Chambers-Emerson said. “It takes critical reasoning skills, independent thinking and the ability to research quickly to find answers.”

Targeted messages

In addition to responding to consumer calls, the poison center reaches out into the community to educate people about poisoning prevention. Spiders and snakes and substances of abuse are in-demand topics.

“I have the best job in the center. I get to answer the phone and help people resolve their crises. But as an educator, I get to travel around the state finding creative ways to teach all kinds of people,” said Chambers-Emerson.

Chambers-Emerson tailors her message to specific groups, whether occupational risks at an industrial plant or medication safety campaigns for senior citizen groups. Staff members give about 500 presentations annually.

By | 2020-04-15T09:24:15-04:00 December 5th, 2014|Categories: Regional, South|0 Comments

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