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Dr. Joseph Kontra and his team recently won the CEO Award for decreasing the time to optimal antibiotics for Staphylococcus aureus bloodstream infections.

Joseph Kontra, M.D., serves as Chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at Lancaster General Hospital, but that is just one of his leadership positions with the health system. We asked Dr. Kontra about his overlapping roles, current priorities – and affinity for bonsai trees.

What is your background and current role with LG Health?

I grew up in Phoenixville and came to Lancaster 30 years ago, after Infectious Disease and Microbiology fellowships at the University of Pennsylvania. In addition to serving as division chief, I direct the microbiology lab, antimicrobial stewardship and infection prevention programs. I’ve held my official title of Director of Infection Prevention since November 2016.

I also still see patients at LG Health Physicians Infectious Diseases. ID is a big division, and we’re very busy, especially when the census is high. One of my main tasks is to integrate the efforts of the various teams that are working together to improve patient safety and increase efficiency at the hospital.

Tell us about the lab team’s efforts surrounding rapid test results, which won the CEO Award.

We recently looked at decreasing the time to optimal antibiotics for Staphylococcus aureus bloodstream infections. Hundreds of our patients test positive for Staph every year. It’s incredibly common and incredibly deadly.
We upgraded our technology and improved our processes to bring the results of a rapid molecular test for Staph in the blood to the bedside. Through these efforts we have decreased the time to optimal antibiotics from 15 hours to 15 minutes. This significantly impacts patient safety and length of stay, as well as hospital costs.

Where is LG Health focusing some of its major infection prevention efforts?

Reducing surgical site infections is one of our main priorities. This aligns directly with the health system’s quality goals. A very large, robust task force has been working on this effort for just over a year. We’ve created a number of different interventions and pathways, and we’re starting to chip away at it. Obviously zero is the goal, but when you are trying to drive down rates below 1 percent, a lot of effort is required. It’s great to see that we’re making progress.

What is LG Health doing to fight sepsis?

This is another major priority for us. CMS has issued management guidelines for patients with sepsis. We created a task force to determine the best ways to meet the government mandates, while still taking the best medical care of our patients. We also participate in the Penn Sepsis Alliance.

We have developed order sets, bundles and pathways, which we’re now implementing. We’re making sure our ED physicians, hospitalists and intensivists are all on the same page with expectations. Our efforts have already made a huge impact, including a decrease in mortality.

What about antibiotic stewardship?

We’re making good headway in our continuing efforts to control the use of antibiotics, such as simplifying the antibiotic prescriptions and shortening the length of treatment when possible. We have an excellent ID-trained pharmacist, as well as an Epic infection control module that includes tracking and analysis capabilities. Our overall antibiotic utilization at LGH is now quite low.

What do you like most about your job?

I enjoy integrating all of these areas and coordinating our efforts to take on the big problems. I like to really dig in and get to the meat of the issues. It’s an honor to be part of the team accomplishing great things throughout the hospital.

What do you like to do when you’re not at work?

I have a very large bonsai collection I’ve been working on for over 20 years. I take care of maybe 30 fairly large trees. I also have had trees on display at the National Arboretum in Washington. My wife bought me a small bonsai tree many years ago, which is how I got started. It’s very relaxing, and it takes my mind off work. It becomes an addiction.

I also play tennis and the piano. My wife and I have been traveling more, which includes visiting our two grown children in California. I try to keep busy.

In his free time, Dr. Kontra tends to his collection of bonsai trees.
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