Eugene Catagnus
Einstein Untold: Unsung Heroes and Unknown Stories

Prize Winner Admired for Hard Work, Energy and a Great Attitude

By on 11/21/2022

One in an ongoing series

Eugene Catagnus was taking a rare day off from work – and sleeping in – when his wife woke him up.

She told him his manager at Einstein Medical Center Montgomery had telephoned and asked him to be at work by 9 a.m. It was odd. He usually worked the overnight shift as an environmental services worker in the Emergency Department – but maybe they were short staffed.

He got up, put on his work clothes and went to the hospital, only to be ushered into a ceremony in the South Tower lobby where dozens of people were gathered – including Chief Operating Officer Beth Duffy and other leadership – to announce the winners of the Korman Family Prize. The prize is awarded once a year to two Einstein Montgomery employees for going above and beyond their duties and embodying the humanitarian mission of the hospital.

Catagnus knew he’d been nominated, which to his mind was crazy enough. The dozen other nominees included a physician, a nurse practitioner, nurses, pharmacists, administrators, people he thought far more deserving of recognition.

He’s “just a janitor,” he says. He never even went to college.

Could This Be Real?

The next thing Catagnus knew, he was being steered to the podium, where he was, indeed, named as one of the two prize recipients – to his utter disbelief and loud applause from the large audience.

“When they called my name, I’m thinking, ‘This can’t be real,’” Catagnus says. “These are doctors and nurses and hospital executives, what do they want me for?”

Perhaps it does seem unusual that an employee whose work tools are mops and cleaning supplies was one of two people to be selected for the hospital’s most prestigious annual. Brandi Chawaga, the hospital’s Director of Community Outreach, was the other.

But Catagnus has inspired his coworkers by his extraordinary work ethic, meticulous attention to detail, and warm demeanor.

“Gene’s exceptional work ethic and consistent positive attitude make those around him strive to be better,” one nominator said. “While the emergency department is a stressful, demanding, and often overwhelming place to work, Eugene handles it all with grace and a smile.”

Catagnus is mystified, if not embarrassed, by such praise. He does acknowledge that he has a fierce work ethic, which he attributes to his father, a Korean War veteran, and the supervisors who guided him through a lifetime of hard physical labor on construction sites.   

“They were all World War II guys and they were tough,” he says. If you were leaning on your shovel because you had a headache, Catagnus says, they were more likely to threaten to hit you with it than to offer you a Tylenol.

“They’d holler at you if you didn’t work,” he says. “That’s the school I came from.”

‘Jack Rabbit’ on the Go

It helps that Catagnus has an intense energy – the labor crews called him Jack Rabbit – that keeps him constantly on the go.  “I’m not much of a sit-down person,” he says. “When I’m working, I never sit down. I don’t need breaks.”

He adds, “I’ve got 91 trash cans, six or seven little offices, the lobby, I think there’s 47 rooms or cubicles in the ER, there’s eight restrooms, a doctors and nurses lounge – I take care of all that. There’s a couple outside trash cans, too. I need all night to do it.”

Catagnus is not much for sitting back and sipping a beer at home, either. “When I come home from work, my wife is watching TV. I’ll sit there with her for 10 minutes and then I’ll get up and go to the supermarket or find a chore to do.”

Catagnus had to give up heavy physical labor when his back could no longer tolerate the strain. He was hired at Einstein Montgomery in August of 2021.

In that short period of time, the nomination said, “Eugene has become a staple of the Emergency Department team and his exceptional work ethic and dedication to the patients, families and staff make the Emergency Department a better place to be when he is here.

“Eugene epitomizes the Einstein mission by performing his duties with humanity, humility and honor every single day.“

The committee that named him a winner of the Korman Family Prize agreed.

“I still can’t believe it,” Catagnus says.  

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