ORANGE — A charitable donation of $150,000 from the George Hoag Family Foundation will keep the Regional Poison Control Center open for at least three more months, officials announced Tuesday.
The center, which is at UCI Medical Center, was originally scheduled to close this month because of a lack of funding.
"This (extension) could mean the saving of a child's life," said Fran Tardiff, a spokeswoman for UCI Medical Center. "The majority of the calls to the center--somewhere around 70%--are about children under 6 years old. The calls are about a child's having swallowed some type of chemical or chewed on a pill or something like that."
Tardiff said the charitable donation, besides giving the center another three months to help with life-and-death situations, "also gives us and other people who are working on this (funding) problem more time to try to find a (permanent) solution."
The poison control center originally was scheduled to close May 8. But the UCI Medical Center later agreed to keep it open an additional two weeks.
Had the Hoag donation not come in, Tardiff said, the poison control center would be shutting down this week.
The poison control center serves Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Mono and Inyo counties--a population of about 5 million. The center receives about 51,000 emergency calls a year through its toll-free line, 800-544-4404.
"We are offering the funds because the foundation sees the poison center as a necessity for this community. We want to help provide those services while community leaders look for a way to preserve it long-term," said George Hoag II, president of the board of the George Hoag Family Foundation.
The foundation is a private philanthropic organization established in 1940 by the late Grace and George Hoag Sr. Its bequests have supported many health causes in Orange County, most notably Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach, which is named after George Hoag Sr. The senior Hoag was a partner in the early organization of the JC Penney store chain.
UCI Medical Center Executive Director Mary Piccione praised the Hoag donation.
"We applaud the Hoag Family Foundation's generous response to the poison center's need," she said. "This donation is an outstanding example of the way private support can help to preserve our valuable health-care resources. We hope it will act as a catalyst to stimulate permanent funding sources."
On April 7, UCI Medical Center announced that the poison control center had to be phased out because of budget problems. The poison control center costs $800,000 a year to operate and has another $200,000 in indirect costs, such as maintenance and housekeeping, UCI officials said. The state, however, only gives the poison center $300,000 a year.
Tardiff said UCI Medical Center is willing to continue absorbing the $200,000 in indirect costs for the poison center. But she said the medical center can no longer afford to subsidize the $500,000 of unfunded direct costs of the poison control center.
State Sen. Marian Bergeson (R-Newport Beach) heads a community task force that is seeking to find a permanent financial solution for the poison control center. In addition, the UCI College of Medicine Foundation is accepting donations to help keep the poison control center open.
People wishing to donate can make checks payable to: PCC/COMF, Attn: Gail Gill, Department of Pediatrics, UCI Medical Center, Bldg. 27, Route 81, P.O. Box 14091, Orange, Calif. 92613-1491.