Mr Yuk poison control room logo

Control Room Centers In Focus: Poison Control Pittsburgh

New parents in Pittsburgh can probably recite the telephone number for the Pittsburgh Poison Center (PPC) from memory, perhaps with a little help from Mr. Yuk.

The character was created in 1971 by Dr. Richard Moriarty, a clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Dr. Moriarty, whom also founded the Pittsburgh Poison Center and the National Poison Control Center Network, designed the prohibitory mascot as an alternative to the traditional skull and crossbones motif. He felt that the former image could too often be confused with the Jolly Roger symbol of the local baseball team, The Pittsburgh Pirates.

The easily recognizable, green-faced Mr. Yuk has been a great success for the center in preventing accidental poisonings occurring with children. Stickers of the mascot’s face, when placed on potentially dangerous chemicals, clearly tell kids to keep away—the information included tells the adults exactly where to find help.

Still, it is not unheard of for the Pittsburgh Poison Center to deal with more than 150,000 requests for information on poisoning each year. The PPC serves over 44 counties in Pennsylvania with multiple 24-hour hospital treatment centers throughout the state. The staff of nurse specialists in toxicology provide medical consultation for all cases of poisoning referred to any of the networked hospitals. The Pittsburgh center received roughly 100,000 phone calls in 2013, nearly 2,000 each week.

The center strives to provide the best and most modern services for their patients. This ranges from the control room furniture to its technology. Calls are monitored and information received from patients is relayed to national database through their network. The database allows overseers to observe trends, recognize specific outbreaks of poisoning and issue alerts.

The Pittsburgh Poison Center has suffered from budget cuts in recent years. As one of the nation’s 55 poison control centers, the PPC adds to the nearly 11,000 calls received every day in the United States concerning poisons. These calls lift the burden of response from local hospitals and doctors and have been estimated to save the industry over $1.8 billion a year in medical expenses.

The center, just like all such programs, receives annual funding from both the state and national level of government. Funding from both has declined over the last decade. Previously receiving more than $1 million from the state Health Department, the PPC received less than $700,000 in 2014. The federal money that is provided is based on the population of a center’s service area and has likewise fallen as the local population has changed. Pittsburgh received merely $289,000 from federal sources.

To help make up the difference, the Pittsburgh Poison Center seeks out donations from its many (about 80) member hospitals from Western Pennsylvania and the northern panhandle of West Virginia. They also receive about $550,000 to $600,000 per year in deals with companies such as Colgate and Palmolive as consulting partners. The companies have agreed to print the center’s contact information on all of their products to present a public service about responsible use in return for the additional funding. Finally, the PPC collects royalties from any merchandise that is sold with the Mr. Yuk character; from keychains, t-shirts, furniture, and, of course, the famous stickers.