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Senate Comes To Poison Control Center's Rescue

  Two emergency services are pit against each another in a fight for state funds. 

Illinois' Poison Control Center receives more than 82,000 calls a year. Some are from health care providers looking for expertise, but mostly they're from the general public.

"Some of them are very simple ones, like can I take Tylenol and Nyquil together? And the answer would be no," the center's director, Dr. Michael Wahl, says.

He says callers have often been waiting longer to get that advice. He says funding cuts, and the resulting staff shortages, have tripled wait times.

"And if you are a mom with a two-year-old, who has drank bleach, 30 seconds feels like three hours," Wahl says.

A measure approved by the state Senate would use some of a fee paid by cell-phone users to help fund the Illinois Poison Control Center.

A larger portion would go to the state's various 911 systems, but they don't want to share. Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, says they can't afford to.

"There is a pool of money and that pool of money is not changing," he says.

Local 911 systems depend largely on a landline fee, and the rise of cell phones has meant less money. The 911 systems say they were counting on the wireless fee to make technology upgrades.

The decline in landline fee collections is a concern everywhere, but Sen. Chapin Rose, R- Mahomet, says that's especially true in college towns, where kids and their cell phones flock from all over.

"All the college kids, say at a Carbondale, or a Charleston or a Western or wherever they may be, from the suburbs, that tax, that fee that's collected, goes back to that home county, where the phone is registered; where the 847s ... the 773s, uh, the 312s," Rose says.

Rose says that ends up starving the local 911 centers in college towns.

Sullivan says rather than the fee split, lawmakers should make a one-time payment this year to keep the poison control center afloat, and then come up with a long-term solution.

Amanda Vinicky moved to Chicago Tonight on WTTW-TV PBS in 2017.
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