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Poison center hires education specialist (2/28/97)

Virginia Barrera-Garcia, the new community education specialist for the South Texas Poison Center at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, grew up in South Texas. She attended schools in Harlingen and Raymondville and after graduation went on to receive her bachelor of science degree in education and kinesiology (the study of muscles and body movement) from Texas A&I University in Kingsville. Barrera-Garcia will receive her masters degree in bilingual education and counseling and guidance, also from Texas A&M University-Kingsville, in the spring.

Virginia didn't have to wait until she had completed her education to find a job. She was offered one of the region's top positions when the South Texas Poison Center recently opened an office in the Area Health Education Center (AHEC) in Weslaco.

"Virginia will be available to train school nurses and emergency medical service personnel in poison prevention, to coordinate community service programs with agencies such as Safekids and WIC, and to establish a network for dissemination of information on poison awareness," said Anita Perry, community education specialist at San Antonio's center. "She is bilingual so she will be able to readily respond to questions from parents, educators or health care workers, as the need arises. She will also instruct in our 'Getting Poison Smart' training program. We feel Virginia offers the flexibility to meet the varied needs of the community."

While the initial focus for the Weslaco office will be directed toward the greater Brownsville, Harlingen and McAllen areas, it is the poison center's goal to provide outreach throughout the entire region.

"Ms. Barrera-Garcia's background and abilities are well suited to this position," stated Jon Thompson, director of the Health Science Center's South Texas Poison Center. "She is a native of the south Texas area and, therefore, already familiar with the unique needs of area communities.

"Our center is a component of the six-member Texas Poison Center Network," Thompson added. "The San Antonio center is staffed by specialists trained in poison information. A mother whose child has just ingested a poisonous household product can speak with a professional on the phone who will, in a matter of seconds or minutes, guide her through the crisis."

Dr. Miguel Fernandez, medical director who joined the center last summer from the University of Arizona in Tucson, said, "We are very pleased to have Ms. Barrera-Garcia on our staff. The South Texas Poison Center searched for almost a year to find a person with her qualifications, one who could meet the special needs of the valley and border areas.

"Currently we are the only poison center among the six regional centers to have an educator dedicated solely to rural/border/bilingual communities," Dr. Fernandez added. "Now we will be able to reach people in the valley and along the rest of the border."

"It is important to be informed," Perry said. "Virginia Barrera-Garcia is now available to teach in area schools and to distribute information to interested persons in the community."

If people in the Valley and along the border are aware that information is only a phone call away, they will be better prepared if the unthinkable happens. Poisonings occur when you least expect them and, when parents are busy with a child who is ill or the family is involved in preparing a meal or entertaining guests, or the child is hungry or tired, it's easier for a toddler or younger child to drink a poisonous substance without being noticed. Preparation and information can save a child's life.

Financial support for the center is provided through a contract with the Texas Department of Health funded by an intrastate long distance surcharge administered by the Advisory Commission on State Emergency Communications (911 Commission). This system was established by state lawmakers in 1993.

Contact Virginia Barrera-Garcia at South Texas Poison Center in Weslaco for information about educational services in your area.

Contact: Jan Elkins (210) 567-2570