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Retiring Comox hospital CEO thanked for service

Michael Pontus (left) is thanked by Bishop Richard Gagnon of the Diocese of Victoria for his years of service at St. Joseph
Michael Pontus (left) is thanked by Bishop Richard Gagnon of the Diocese of Victoria for his years of service at St. Joseph's General Hospital in Comox.
— image credit: Lindsay Chung

St. Joseph's General Hospital Foundation president and CEO Michael Pontus attended his last annual general meeting at the hospital last Friday.

Pontus is retiring at the end of this month after 21 years as St. Joseph's CEO, and he took the opportunity to look back on his two decades at the hospital, while many around the board table used the meeting as a chance to thank Pontus for his work.

"St. Joseph's has persevered and thrived through all the reorganizations and upheavals in health care because it has a solid touchstone base of Christian values and ethics and owner that believes, a board that is fully supporting, chairpersons who were continuously dedicated, leadership staff who adhere to principles and lead by example, a medical staff who is willing to be creative and to grow, and staff who willingly put forward their ideas for innovation and change and are willing to move at a pace that is sometimes slow and at other times quite quick," said Pontus.

"What better organization can one be associated with. My good fortune is that I was able to experience it for 21 years. It has been very satisfying to know that we were improving services for the residents of the Comox Valley, creating a better and more attractive community, which then would help it grow and be more stable....

"St. Joseph's is a very good hospital and a very well-managed facility because so many people at so many levels care about the patients, what St. Joseph's stands for and its reputation."

Pontus came to St. Joseph's in the fall of 1989.

At that time, the Comox Valley's population was 42,000, the hospital's inpatient bed days were 35,000 and there were 35,000 visits to emergency. St. Joseph's had few regional services, 534 employees and an annual expenditure of $17 million, he recalled in his annual report.

There was pressure at that time to prepare an expansion of 50 acute beds, noted Pontus.

"As we carefully assessed the matter, we realized that the complex care beds were the dominant need and that there were significant opportunities by pursuing innovation and ambulatory care, day care surgical procedures and medical day care," he noted. "We looked into the future, and we could see that it was not inpatient care as it had been in the past, but early diagnosis, minimal intervention surgery and ambulatory care; having people return home earlier, to recover at home and to be fully supported in that environment. This strategy was correct and foreshadows what is currently happening across the country at the moment."

This strategy enabled St. Joseph's to respond to significant growth in the population, which is now 65,000, and to take on additional regional services, provide support for other organizations, repatriate services back, grow the number of employees to 1,080 and grow its expenditure to 475 million, noted Pontus.

It also enabled the number of day care surgeries to increase from below 50 per cent up to 80 per cent and to drastically increase the number of surgeries overall, he added.

"It meant that St. Joseph's self-sufficiency became one of the highest of Vancouver Island and enabled it to continuously achieve the lowest cost-per-weighted-case of any facility on the Island," noted Pontus. "It secured a reputation as being innovative, efficient, compassionate and a great place to work."

In his time at St. Joseph's, the hospital has been a "dramatic engine" of the local economy, noted Pontus.

"In the last 21 years, St. Joseph's added some 500 employees and $58 million per year of expenditure into the community," he said.

As part of their annual reports, many board members thanked Pontus for his 21 years of service and dedication.

"Michael, you have always put the needs and development of this hospital ahead of yourself," Greg Osborne, chair of the finance committee, wrote in his report, which was read by Jim Bennett. "Thank you."

Bishop Richard Gagnon of the Diocese of Victoria expressed his gratitude to Pontus.

"A lot of fine things were said around the table today in gratitude to your dedication, Michael, and to your vision for the hospital, and that indicates a deep sense of gratitude for your professional service here for 21 years," he said. "I wish to second that and express to you my deep thanks for your service, for your friendship and for your support of myself as Bishop and for your support of staff."

writer@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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