Bucks for Yuck

June 02, 2003 11:00 pm

Mr. Yuck has a sour stomach.

Oregon Health Sciences University has cut funding for the Oregon Poison Center and its mascot, the scowling green guy Yuck.

The cut comes on the tail of reductions in state funding for OHSU.

Now the Poison Center is seeking a new source of funding, pushing a bill in the legislature to tap into the statewide 911 fund to support the center's operations.

The center is critical to emergency health care in Oregon. When a child swallows some icky liquid, a parent needs good information, fast. A call to the Poison Center puts a parent in need in touch with a poison control nurse who can consult with a toxicologist to advise a parent.

Emergency room? Induced vomit? Water and rest? The Poison Control hotline puts experts at a parent's fingertips.

However, it might be the widespread utility of the Poison Control center that put it on the chopping block at OHSU.

The entity is only partially publicly funded — less than 10 percent of its funding comes from taxpayers, if you don't count the bonding authority extended to OHSU under the Oregon Opportunity.

Grants and bonds support research and expansion at OHSU, a complex of hospitals and research facilities in Portland with alliances statewide that put medical students into rural rotation in Baker City and other small communities.

However, for an entity making waves in Portland for plans to build a second campus near the river below the present hillside campus and connecting the two with an aerial tramway, we aren't convinced OHSU exhausted its options for funding the Poison Center.

Rather than second-guess OHSU's choice of cuts, however, we wonder how many alternate avenues for funding the Poison Center and OHSU explored before plotting a course for 911 State Funding Boulevard.

Numerous granting organizations have child safety as an objective. Could a new partnership — like the sponsorships that make Mr. Yuck stickers available — support the center and pay public relations dividends to the foundation or corporation?

If the Poison Center truly is a savings to emergency rooms in Oregon and the Alaskan and Nevadan communities it also serves, how much are those hospitals contributing to the Poison Center's continued existence?

Would parents be adverse to a 1-900 pay model for Poison Control advice, putting their children at risk through inaction? Or would a modest fee per call be a small price to pay for avoiding a visit to the emergency room?

Tapping 911 funds for Poison Control makes sense. But was state funding the only option? Lawmakers should ask.