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Poison center gets funding

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A late amendment to a special session appropriations bill means that the West Virginia Poison Control Center will have enough funds to operate for a full year.

"We're still sort of deficit spending, but we can make it through another year," director Elizabeth Scharman said Tuesday.

Shortly before the end of a brief special session Friday, the Senate Finance Committee amended a $57,000 appropriation for the center into one of two supplemental appropriations bills passed by the Legislature in special session.

Scharman had previously warned that a proposed second 7.5 percent budget cut in two years would reduce the center's budget to the point it would not have enough money to remain open for a full year.

Because the state appropriations are used to draw down federal matching funds, the proposed cut would have amounted to nearly an $114,000 funding reduction, out of an annual operating budget of about $1 million.

Scharman credited media coverage of the potential shutdown of the center, which operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for spurring public demand to restore the center's budget.

"People were emailing and calling the governor's office, and members of the House and Senate," she said. "My understanding is they received quite a number of phone calls and emails."

While the poison control center provides the public and health care providers with assessments and treatment advice for all variety of exposure to chemicals, household substances, medications, and snake and insect bites, the center's role in the aftermath of the Jan. 9 chemical leak that tainted the area water supply may have helped its cause, Scharman said.

"It's ironic it happened when it did, but it got people taking notice of just how many things we do," she said.

During the six weeks that followed the leak, the Poison Center fielded 2,785 calls regarding exposure to Crude MCHM-tainted water from residents, physicians and hospital staff in the nine affected counties.

Despite the publicity, House and Senate budget conferees were unable to amend the 2014-15 budget bill to restore the funding to the Poison Center since both the House and Senate versions of the budget bill included the proposed $56,822 reduction. Under legislative rules, conference committees are limited to resolving differences in House and Senate versions of bills.

Scharman said she had indications the funding would be restored by supplemental appropriation, but the bill submitted by the governor's office for the Friday special session did not include it (SB1003).

"It was nerve-wracking for a while, because it had to be amended into the bill," she said.

 Reach Phil Kabler at philk@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1220.


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