On January 1, 1956, Children's Orthopedic Hospital opens a Poison Control Center to advise physicians how to treat accidental poisoning cases. It is the first such center in the Northwest. By 1984, the center will be receiving more than 60,000 calls a year from parents and from people who have accidentally ingested poisons. The center will become the Washington Poison Center in 1995.
In 1952, 1,440 persons died of accidental poisoning in the United States, more than the old killers typhoid fever, typhus, malaria, small pox, scarlet fever, and whooping cough combined. The large number of new compounds for home and industry made it impossible for individual physicians to keep track of all antidotes and treatment options. In 1954, two-year-old Frances Timson of Seattle ate rat poison that had been mixed by the manufacturer with corn meal and given a sweet flavor. Her doctor worked for hours to save her life, but had he known the proper procedures, he would have succeeded sooner.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommended establishment of poison control centers to supply this information. A committee chaired by Dr. Donald A. Sutherland of the Seattle Pediatric Society along with Dr. Vernon Spickard, chief of staff at Children's Orthopedic Hospital, hospital superintendent Eva Erickson, and others recommended that the center in Seattle be placed at Children's. The Board of Trustees at Children's agreed to host the center and to have the hospital staff specially trained to answer questions.
Initially, the center was envisioned as a resource for physicians. Parents who found that children may have ingested poisons were told to call their own doctors first. The doctors would in turn consult with the nurse or doctor on duty at the Poison Control Center for proper action. If parents could not reach their doctor, they could call the center direct (telephone FIllmore 4300). In some cases vomiting was indicated, and in others application of an antidote or quantities of water, depending on the poison. In a year and a half, the center received 336 calls in one month and poison control centers opened in other cities in the Northwest. By 1960, the most common poison ingested was aspirin and that year the center logged more than 7,000 calls, the vast majority from parents.
In the late 1970s, Children's was spending $100,000 a year to maintain the Poison Control Center in Seattle. Three other centers, including one at Mary Bridge Hospital in Tacoma had also been established. The advent of telecommunications and computers made it possible for the various centers to access a single database. Hospitals wanted to consolidate the 600 centers across the nation to about 60. In the early 1980s, the state of Washington picked up the support of the four centers that operated in Washington, but funding was never certain. In 1984, nine people staffed the center 24 hours a day and the Children's operation fielded more than half the 126,000 calls made to the four Washington centers. Many calls were to assist adults.
In 1995, the Poison Control Center was organized into its own not-for-profit Washington Poison Center supported in part by the State Health Department. At that time it was moved out of Children's Hospital in Seattle.