Poison Control Center

Calm amid frantic callers

Anne-Marie Banks, RN, uses her hands-on clinical experience to assess calls to the center.

Poisoning is the nation’s leading cause of death from injuries, a statistic known all too well at our hospital's Poison Control Center.

The center’s 11-person staff – six critical care nurses, four pharmacists and a medical director – answer calls round-the-clock, every day of the year. Many of the approximately 30,000 calls per year are from terrified parents who have seen their children ingest everything from hand sanitizer to grandma’s heart medicine.

“Our employees do such an amazing job taking a parent from utter panic to relief in a matter of seconds,” said Tama Sawyer, PharmD, who directs the free service, the only such center in Kansas.

“The parents really appreciate being able to talk to an actual caregiver who can assess the situation and provide a comforting voice, telling them everything is going to be OK.”

In addition to receiving calls, the staff make another 90,000 calls per year to follow up with the parents or to check on patients who have been hospitalized. (Staff at hospitals around the state routinely contact the Poison Control Center for advice.)

The center is one of 55 poison control facilities in the nation. (The Poison Control nationwide number: 800-222-1222.) Collectively they handle more than 3 million calls per year, managing 87 percent of calls over the phone – without needing to send callers to a healthcare facility.

They upload data every three minutes to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Both the Center for Disease Control and Prevention as well as the U.S. Department of Homeland Security monitor the information for potential hazardous events throughout the United States.

Anne-Marie Banks, RN, has been a nurse more than 20 years, the last six in our Poison Control Center. She enjoys not only being able to calm frantic parents but also putting her extensive medical background to use.

She realized one caller, who thought his shortness of breath was due to exposure to an industrial cleanser, was actually having a heart attack. A woman called to say she thought she had eaten contaminated food; Banks recognized the symptoms as appendicitis.

“That’s the beauty of our staff,” Sawyer said. “Our pharmacists understand the mechanisms of toxicology, while our nurses have hands-on clinical experience. They’re a great complement to each other.”