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A day at the poison hotline

At midnight, a call from parents of a 3-year-old who got up in the middle of the night and started playing with (and ingesting) mango-scented detergent; then a call from a 20-year-old woman who was depressed and took a handful of ibuprofen.

Later an ER nurse calls about a man who drank drain cleaner in a “self-harm gesture” and is now vomitting blood; and an ER nurse  calls about a 16-year-old having seizures after taking 28 cough tablets to get high.

At 7 a.m. a mother calls, her 14-year-old son mistakenly took his morning meds twice.

At 11 a.m., a mother of a 3-year-old who put nail polish on her lips, then the mother of another 3-year-old who mistook rat pellets for candy.

At 2 p.m. a call about a 2-year-old who got into her grandmother’s pill case; a teacher calls after breathing the discharge when a student set off a fire extinguisher as a prank .

At 5 p.m., an 18-year-old who was playing basketball and took a swig out of a bottle of Gatorade he found in a car; the bottle contained windshield fluid.

At 11 p.m. a hospital calls about a man who took his roommate’s diabetes medicine, thinking it was Valium; he’s comatose and having seizures.

That’s just a sample of nearly 300 calls fielded in one day by the Illinois Poison Center‘s 24-hour hotline (1-800-222-1222) .  IPC posted them on an organizational blog, initiated in December to tell the center’s story – and explain the need to restore full funding from the state.

State funding cuts have led to staff reductions – and caused longer wait times on the center’s hotline, at a time when the rate of poisoning deaths is steadily increasing.

IPC’s state funding was cut by 30 percent last year – a $600,000 reduction – and Governor Quinn’s proposed budget maintains the reduced funding level for next year.

That forced a reduction in the clinical staff handling the hotline, and that’s meant some longer hold times for callers, said Carol DesLauriers, a pharmacist who manages the poison center.  Calls are still generally answered within seconds, but at busy times waits can be as long as a minute or two.

“In an emergency involving poisoning, most people aren’t going to wait more than ten seconds,” she said. “They’ll hang up and head to the emergency room.”

Each call is handled by a doctor, nurse, or pharmacist with a specialization in toxicology, and calls often involve extensive consultations, sometimes taking 15 minutes or more.

But over 90 percent of calls are resolved on the phone, and the savings to Illinois taxpayers in unnecessary medical costs are estimated conservatively at $50 million, DesLauriers said.

The center fields about 100,000 calls a year, more than half of them regarding children 6 or under.  About 18 percent are consultations with professionals, mainly ER doctors and nurses.

Among the three leading causes of injury-related deaths, motor vehicles and firearms have declined in recent decades, while the rate of poisoning deaths nearly tripled – from 5 to 13 per 100,000 – between 1979 and 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

One reason is a large increase in prescriptions being written, including far more common use of opiate pain medication, DesLauriers said.  People sometimes have “a false sense of security” with drugs that are prescribed by doctors and approved by the FDA, she said. And while abuse of illicit drugs is declining, abuse of prescription drugs is growing dramatically.

In addition to the hotline, IPC carriers out a public education program with outreach to hospitals and community centers, and provides training for nursing, pharmacy, and medical students throughout the state

State funding accounts for about 40 percent of IPC’s budget, but the state cuts have also put federal matching funds at risk.  The Center also receives funding from area hospitals.

Real balance on state budget

The Civic Federation and the editorial writers are calling for a “balanced approach” to the state’s budget crisis that includes cuts along with revenue increases.

With Governor Quinn issuing his budget address today – heavy on cuts and borrowing, as Progress Illinois notes — the Responsible Budget Coalition points out that the state has been cutting spending and borrowing money for years now.

“As a result, even before the current crisis, Illinois ranked 49th of 50 states in education funding, slashed its state workforce to the smallest in the nation per capita, and underfunded human services by $4.4 billion since 2002” – not to mention $5 billion in unpaid bills to local service providers.  (For more see CTBA’s recent study.)

“It is critical that lawmakers act now to balance their past pattern of cuts, borrowing and payment delays with adequate revenue. They should enact HB 174.”

That bill would raise the rate on the income tax and expand the sales tax to consumer goods, while increasing the personal exemption and property tax credit. It would raise $5.2 billion a year.  It passed the state Senate last year with Governor Quinn’s backing, but House Speaker Mike Madigan refuses to bring it to a vote.

In a statement this morning, the Responsible Budget Coalition points out that the economic crisis is creating much greater demand for public services – and that job losses from budget cuts in the middle of a recession would hurt the state economy far more than a tax increase would.

Daley’s economic development joke

Mayor Daley was just kidding when he said he would go after Oregon businesses last week, after the state voted for a modest income tax hike for the top 3 percent  of its wealthiest residents, and for an equally modest reform of the state’s corporate income tax.

At least that’s a what a Daley spokesperson told the Portland Business Journal Friday.

Even as a joke it doesn’t make sense.  What business is going to leave a state with responsible fiscal policies for one like Illinois with a $13 billion deficit?  What businessperson would choose a state with public education and urban transit in crisis, and with social services in danger of closing with the state unable to pay its bills?

Meanwhile, as Oregon House Speaker Dave Hunt tells the Oregonian, Chicago has the highest sales tax in the country.  (And even with the minimums just enacted by the voters there, the corporate income tax is still higher here than in Oregon.)

Daley’s “economic development” policy throws millions upon millions of public dollars at multinational corporations to bring a relative handful of jobs here, while cutting funding for neighborhood development groups that support small business, which is the strongest engine of job growth. Meanwhile a maze of fees and regulations makes Chicago “hostile to start-up businesses and self-employed people,” as a study by the Institute for Justice found last year.

Check the list of organizations backing the Vote Yes For Oregon Coalition in its call for what the Nation termed “budget sanity.”  Look on the right side of that list for the many small business endorsers.  They knew the measures that passed were needed to “protect the foundations of our community — our schools, our health and human services, our public safety system,” as the Oregon Center for Public Policy put it.

Progress Illinois wonders why Daley still calls himself a Democrat.  Is he really against progressive taxation?  Last year, when Democrats in Springfield were unsuccessfully wrestling with budget reform, he was out of town, lobbying for the Olympics.

Wisenberg and Ervin

Two of Chicago’s best writers are featured in the November issue of the Progressive.

S. L. Wisenberg writes with biting humor and unnerving honesty about breast cancer and her “post-mastectomy dilemma.”

Mike Ervin writes of his “deep dread” as state legislators debate budget cuts which could eliminate the home assistants that enable him to live a full life – or even just get out of bed in the morning.

Video poker debates

A Chicago ordinance bans video poker; with the state’s new capital budget funded in part by the legalization of video poker, a push to repeal the local ban is expected.

And with scores of localities moving now to institute bans, “Chicago is the key whether video poker machines will exist in Illinois,” said Rev. Thomas Gray of the national organization Stop Predatory Gambling.

Three forums this week will bring together the Task Force to Oppose Gambling in Chicago and the Illinois Coin Machine Operators Association, joined by Ald. Joe Moore and the Illinois Conference of the United Methodists — Monday, October 19, 7:30 p.m. at Humboldt Park United Methodist Church, 2120 N. Mozart [corrected]; Tuesday, October 20, 12 noon at Chicago Temple, 77 W. Washington; and Wednesday, October 21, 7 p.m. at the Rogers Park Library, 6907 N. Clark.

Video poker: bad bet

Video poker is turning out to be a riskier gamble than Governor Quinn and state legislators thought when they legalized it earlier this year, looking for easy money to fund a public works budget.

They were betting it would add $300 million in state revenues per year.  That now seems unlikely.  Their September 11 deadline for poker video rules from the gaming board has come and gone, the board insisting it’s a far more complex process (involving investigating and approving each proposed location) than the politicians realized, with a much longer timeline.

In the meantime, dozens of towns are considering taking advantage of the law’s provision allowing local bans on video gambling.  DuPage County has banned it in unincorporated areas, and Cook and Will Counties are considering similar actions.

The Tribune just found that 60 percent of Illinois residents oppose video gambling. 

Expanding gambling always looks like the perfect quick-fix solution when budgets are tight, U. of I. business professor John Kindt told the New York Times, “but in the end it so often proves to be neither quick nor a fix.”

Today a number of anti-gambling groups are launching Operation Let The Public Decide, aimed at holding public hearings on video poker in communities around the state — and working to keep in place the ordinance that bans video poker in Chicago.

Ald. Joe Moore, County Commissioner Bridget Gainer, Jane Ramsey of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, Rev. Larry Hilkemann of the Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodists, Nancy Duell of the Anti-Gambling Task Force, and Rev. Tom Grey of Stop Predatory Gambling were slated for a City Hall announcement this morning. 

Gainer has called the $300 million revenue projection “an exaggeration bordering on fantasy.”  Indeed, the Times says Illinois has reported a $166 million drop in gambling-related revenue in the past year.  And much money spent on video poker is money that won’t be spent on the lottery or in casinos.

In Elgin, the League of Women Voters is calling on the city council to ban video poker; the city is studying the issue.  LVW’s Lauren Bault “said gambling is a regressive way to raise revenue that targets the poor. She also said gambling has a low-growth potential and video poker encourages people to play longer, faster and bet more,” the Daily Herald reports.

“Gambling is not a source of revenue that is equitable, progressive, stable and responsible,” Bault said.

In unrelated news, video poker lobbyist Joe Berrios was slated for Cook County Assessor by the Cook County Democratic Party, chaired by video poker lobbyist Joe Berrios.

Youth leaders

Five hundred youth and community supporters are expected at a rally against budget cuts Tuesday, September 1, at 10 a.m. at the Thompson Center.  It’s called by community organizations across the city which are launching a new citywide youth-led campaign, called Leaders Investing For Equality (LIFE), to fight for increased resources for youth programs.

According to LIFE, students across Chicago have researched and mapped resource gaps in their neighborhoods documenting a persistent shortage of jobs, education funding, and extracurricular and park programming for teens — and now the state’s fiscal year 2010 budget is cutting mentoring and afterschool programs and student assistance by roughly half, along with significant cuts to teen parent services, homeless youth services, and delinquency intervention.

Females United For Action points out that sumer youth jobs for Chicago teens have been severely cut over the past couple decades, and Illinois ranks 49 among states in school funding.  “With slashes to counseling, foster care, assault support, intimate partner violence services, jobs, education, and scholarships, we can predict long-term damage if we don’t come together and do something,” says FUFA.

Not a pretty picture

Southwest Side residents will create a giant mural depicting the potential impact of state budget cuts at a rally today from 4 to 11 p.m. at Burroughs Elementary, 3542 S. Washtenaw, sponsored by the Brighton Park Neighborhood Council.

The community collage will include photos, drawings, and written stories from children and families in the low-income, mainly Latino neighborhood.  At a press conference at 7 p.m., neighborhood leaders will call on legislators to uphold Gov. Quinn’s veto of the “doomsday” budget, and to pass a budget that includes new revenue.

According to BPNC, neighborhood families rely heavily on programs that would face severe cuts under the current budget proposal, including KidCare, early childhood education, food stamps and free lunches, mental health and domestic violence services and violence prevention.

Tomorrow morning at 10 a.m., the Chicago Metropolitan Battered Women’s Network will protest at the Thompson Center and at the law office of House Speaker Michael Madigan, 30 N. Wabash.

The Illinois Hunger Coalition is planning a press conference for Monday, July 13, and on Tuesday, July 14 at noon, Illinois Action For Childrenholds a rally at the Capitol in Springfield.

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