Recognizing the efficiency and expertise with which Florida's poison information centers track and respond to public health issues, the state's Department of Health has transferred control of its marine toxins/red tide hotline to the Florida Poison Information Center Network's three centers in Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville.
At the Florida/USVI Poison Information Center Jacksonville (FPIC/Jax), located on the Shands Jacksonville campus and serving 42 counties in northeastern Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Director Jay L. Schauben, Pharm.D., DABAT, FAACT, said the centers had already been handling some of the calls that bypass the state's hotline for some time. The move by the state makes the network officially responsible for the service, eliminating duplication while enabling better surveillance of the issues and more knowledgeable assistance to callers.
"We have health professionals who are capable of making rapid and accurate triage decisions around the clock," said Schauben. "The electronic data we collect is also uploaded to the Florida Department of Health's bio surveillance system in real-time, enabling cluster recognition, tracking and mitigation of the public health threat. It makes our differential diagnoses much more plausible when we have the ability to look back on our own surveillance data and know something is going on in an area."
These are data and patient-tracking capabilities the Department of Health itself doesn't have, Schauben said. It also doesn't have the ability to handle surges in informational call volumes if an outbreak occurs, whereas the poison centers are trained in disaster readiness and have government-funded surge capabilities in place and ready to be called upon.
In 2010, for instance, calls to the Florida flu hotline concerning the H1N1 virus spiked to levels the Department of Health could not handle efficiently. The poison centers were asked to maintain the hotline, which they did by absorbing and adjusting to the high call volumes, Schauben said. In another example, the poison centers were instrumental in alerting governmental authorities to the public health threats from a marine toxin outbreak involving puffer fish.
While the poison centers often handle temporary surges related to potential public health issues-they are still operating the fungal meningitis hotline created earlier this year-the marine toxins/red tide line is the latest in several permanent handovers by the Department of Health. Schauben said his center has been able to absorb these responsibilities so far, but if normal call volume grows enough to require additional staff, there are stipulations in such transfers that the Department of Health reimburse the facility.
Since its launch in 1992, FPIC/Jax has led innovations in poison information services and management, helping poison centers throughout the nation evolve into much broader-based and proactive agencies for public health. Schauben said he believes his poison center staff is feeling a certain sense of pride about being the role model for such changes.
"It's heartening to see the expansion of poison centers from being not only providers of patient care but also the monitors of public health," Schauben said. "Because of how we operate and what we are now tasked to do, we have expanded into surveillance and that adds another level of complexity to our job. It means a lot to the dedicated people we have working here."