Rutgers Volunteers Help Take Anxious Calls on New Jersey’s COVID-19 Hotline

Rutgers University

New Jersey Poison Control Center specialists have been operating the state hotline for the last year

Bruce Ruck, managing director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center (NJPIES), is used to high call volumes.

But the volume of calls that have been coming into the center’s COVID-19 hotline over the past year about the coronavirus – which has infected 800,000 New Jersey residents and killed more than 23,000 – have been more like a tsunami.

“I was in the center with others seven days a week, 12-16 hours a day until Memorial Day weekend last year when it started to let up a little,” said Ruck, a licensed pharmacist. “We were getting five times as many calls as usual. The calls kept coming. People were desperate for answers.”

Ruck and Diane Calello, executive medical director of the center, recognized the impending pandemic situation early. In January 2020 when the coronavirus started to appear throughout the country, NJPIES, based at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School in Newark, laid the groundwork to rollout a special hotline dedicated to taking calls about COVID-19.

“As a statewide, 24/7 hotline staffed by health care professionals, we realized we could help in a unique and valuable way,” Calello said. “We had no idea just how valuable that help would become as the pandemic ensued.”

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