"St. Anne Chief of Staff Follows Family Footsteps"
One could say that Erich Pontasch, MD,
was born to be a doctor.
“My dad’s a doctor, I have a sister and brother who are doctors, even my grandmother, who was not an MD, served as a sort of ‘mountain doc’ up in the mountains in Austria,” he said. “Now I have two nieces in medicine. It’s been a sort of family tradition. Fortunately for me, it was also the right fit. I find being a physician extremely rewarding, not only in interacting with patients but also with the nurses and other staff members at St. Anne. The nurses here are phenomenal, as are our respiratory therapists, lab techs, housekeeping staff and cafeteria workers. There is a real family atmosphere here, as most of us have been together since Riverside. We have a really good rapport here which supports seamless interactions between the doctors and nurses – I feel like they know what I am thinking before I even think it, much less say it.”
Dr. Pontasch says that, family traditions aside, the reason he pursued and continues to enjoy a career in medicine is because it provided an opportunity to care for people, physically, spiritually and emotionally.
“Medicine is not just science,” he said. “It’s the whole package, which includes caring for the families of our patients. Sometimes, unfortunately, there is nothing we can do for the patient, but you can still be there for that patient’s loved ones.”
Dr. Pontasch has received recognition many times by nurses and other staff members at St. Anne for going above and beyond to help the families of patients when they were facing very bleak circumstances.
Dr. Pontasch is an Emergency Medicine physician, but he frequently responds to requests for help in other departments.
“He certainly is a wonderful asset to us ‘inpatient’ folks,” said Cheryl Abalos, RN, BSN, Clinical Manager, Medical Surgical Telemetry/Intensive Care Unit. “He recently spent an hour with an ICU family and even cried with them as they were making probably the hardest decision of their lives - whether or not to remove a vent from their 24 year old daughter. This was a situation in which the family needed a physician to speak with them right at that minute. The patient's attending and consulting physicians could not come, so we called Dr. Pontasch.”
Dr. Pontasch did not hesitate when asked to help.
“ER docs are in the hospital 24/7, so we get called to help with patients and families in other departments all the time, simply because we are available,” he said. “In this case, the family was having a hard time making a decision and really needed to discuss their questions and concerns with a physician. I don’t see this type of patient and family interaction as being outside my normal job description – it is a big part of my job.”
Chaplain Michael Pence, who witnessed this exchange as well as others, said Dr. Pontasch is very compassionate and always makes time to listen.
“He’s the best when it comes to dealing with patients and families,” Michael said. “He is very understanding and really takes his time helping them find the answers they need so they can feel comfortable with their decisions and maintain trust in our system. It means a lot to these families.”
Not only does Dr. Pontasch take time to talk with patients and families in times of crisis, he also uses his medical knowledge and skills to save lives – in the Emergency Department and throughout the hospital.
“His clinical expertise saved a life just the other day,” Cheryl said. “A patient went bradyacardic on his first day post-op after total shoulder replacement. A code was called, and Dr. Pontasch responded. We tried to externally pace the patient, and we could not. Dr. Pontasch expertly placed a transvenous pacer and saved this gentleman's life. The cardiologist and the lung doctor both came to the hospital about one hour after the incident, and I witnessed them shake Dr. Pontasch's hand and tell him what an asset to St. Anne's he is. Of course, Dr. Pontasch was humble - but that is who he is. Always going the extra mile for our patients and supporting our staff too!”
Andrea Smith, Manager of Medical Staff Services, says it is that support he provides to all colleagues that makes him an ideal Chief of Staff.
“He treats the other members of our medical staff, as well as all hospital employees, like brothers and sisters,” she said. “He does everything he can to help them be happy with providing care at St. Anne.”
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