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Director of Public Education & Communications Retires After More Than 35 Years at Poison Center

Photo of Gail Banach

Written by Michele Caliva, Upstate New York Poison Center Administrative Director:

Gail Banach has worked at the Upstate New York Poison Center for 37 years. She has been a pioneer in the field of poison prevention education and instrumental in growing the Upstate New York Poison Center’s education program into one of the premier poison prevention education programs in the nation. Through her innovation, dedication, and leadership Gail has worked tirelessly to spread the message of poison prevention throughout New York State. Gail has also contributed to many notable “firsts.” Gail was the first educator to be appointed to the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) Accreditation Committee. This committee sets the standards for poison center’s operations and is the accrediting agency for all poison centers in the country. Gail has chaired the AAPCC Public Education Committee and has been instrumental in increasing the visibility and expanding the role of educators within AAPCC and individual Poison Centers. She has often been called on by her colleagues to train new educators and provided presentations at national conferences. Gail was the recipient of the AAPCC’s Educators Research Award.  

Other firsts include establishing a training program for 911 Centers across New York State, developing an online ‘Train the Trainer’ Program for Educators on Poison Prevention, and using points of service agencies such as Cooperative Extensions to distribute poison prevention information and conduct 'Train the Trainer' poison prevention education programs.  

Gail’s ability to think creatively led to the development of “Billy the Ball,” a character she created to teach poison prevention to children. “Billy the Ball” made its appearance in educational videos and on prevention materials. Children related to this fun cartoon character. She also took the lead on a project with other New York State Poison Prevention educators and Albany School of Pharmacy to develop a video entitled ‘Stop! Ask First.” Gail was also one of the first educators in the nation to develop an Inhalation Abuse Video used to teach school children about the dangers of inhalation abuse.

Gail’s leadership ability has led to numerous invitations to sit on national, state, and local committees. She was a member of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) PROTECT Advisory Committee, the AAPCC Certification Committee, the AAPCC Site Review Committee, the AAPCC Abstract Review Committee, Onondaga County Drug Task Force, the Perinatal Substance Abuse Committee, SAFE Kids, and the Advocates for Upstate Medical University. She has served as chair of many of these committees and is the first to be nominated by her colleagues to head up a project. 

Gail is a great believer in collaborations. She has worked with numerous community agencies to develop programs in response to community needs. For example, in Onondaga County, she worked as a liaison with New York State Department of Health to provide buprenorphine training to physicians and physician extenders. Through her efforts, numerous healthcare providers have been trained, thus allowing them to treat patients with opioid abuse disorder. She has also been instrumental in leading the Sharps, Needles, and Drug Disposal Program (SNADD) in Onondaga County. In an attempt to reduce the availability and access to medications in the home including opioids, this program encourages Onondaga County residents to drop off unwanted expired medications and designated drop-off sites. This program, since its inception, has collected thousands of pounds of unwanted medications. 

Gail holds a voluntary faculty appointment for Upstate Medical University’s Public Health Program. She served as a preceptor for MPH students in this program as well as students at Syracuse University. Gail holds a master’s degree in Education and a master’s degree in Instructional Design. As a lifelong learner, she has availed herself of numerous professional education opportunities. 

In conclusion, Gail's contributions to the success of the Upstate New York Poison Center are profound. She was instrumental in growing the Poison Center Prevention Program from an 11-county catchment area to a 54-county catchment area. She put our Center on the “national stage.” Her efforts have allowed our Center to take the lead on numerous initiatives and to sustain and grow these initiatives over many years. She will be greatly missed.

In the case of a poisoning or for information purposes, call the Upstate New York Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222. We are open 24/7, 365 days a year. Each year our center manages more than 50,000 calls from health care providers, 911 operators, hospitals, industry, schools, and the general public in our 54-county service area.

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About Upstate New York Poison Center

Housed inside Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, the Upstate New York Poison Center is dedicated to reducing the number, cost and severity of poisonings within its designated 54-county service area as mandated by New York State Law. The Center is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to both health professionals and the general public at 1-800-222-1222.

About Upstate Medical University

SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, NY, is the only academic medical center in Central New York. It is also the region's largest employer with 9,460 employees. Affiliated with the State University of New York, Upstate's mission is to improve the health of the community through education, biomedical research and health care.