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Patient-Centered Care Month: Roots Run Deep at KDMC

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  • Written By: Jennifer Fields
Patient-Centered Care Month: Roots Run Deep at KDMC
King’s Daughters will always have a special place in Melissa Connelly Behnke’s heart. After all, she practically grew up there.

A daughter of obstetrician and gynecologist Edward Connelly, Melissa came to Ashland at the tender age of 3. She has fond memories of walking to work with her father. Sometimes as a special treat, they enjoyed lunch at a deli near the hospital. She remembers menu items named for local physicians; her favorite being the Ray Burger, a tasty hamburger with cole slaw and ketchup. It was named for anesthesiologist Hugh Ray.

“My dad had his own dish: Connelly Eggs, which was scrambled eggs with cheese, but it wasn’t as good as the burger,” she says with a smile, reliving childhood memories.

Today, Melissa works to give back to a community she dearly loves. By serving on the Patient Family Centered Care committee at King’s Daughters, she and other volunteers advise about specific projects that directly affect patients: hospital signs, parking, billing and safety.

She hopes her role as a patient advisor helps carry out what she learned early in her nursing career — to put the patient first and encourage them to be active participants in their care. In the last 30 years, she says healthcare has shifted focus away from the patient as technology has advanced.

A registered nurse, clinical nurse specialist and nursing educator, Melissa says she has seen healthcare come full circle. “We are slowly seeing priorities placed back to the patient and their needs. A patient and their family’s perspective is a key component in providing quality care.”

Melissa vividly remembers how healthcare used to be. “My dad was always very busy and patients loved him because of his kindness and compassion,” she says, adding having four daughters of his own probably helped. “He worked day and night delivering 15,000 babies in Ashland during his 30-year career.”

Keeping the love of medicine in the family, Melissa married ear, nose and throat surgeon Ernest Behnke, who practiced at King’s Daughters for more than 30 years. The couple, who raised three children together, have made significant contributions to King’s Daughters and the health of the entire community. When he came to the medical center, only 50 physicians were on staff. Today, hundreds provide care. Ernie, one of the first physicians in eastern Kentucky to perform endoscopic sinus surgery and head and neck surgery, today the retired surgeon he travels Kentucky, providing care as a hearing and vision specialist to children.

“I think my Ernie would still be a surgeon today if healthcare hadn’t changed so much,” she admits. “But he loves what he does.”

Remembering her mother’s role in the KDMC auxiliary and Red Cross and later as a nursing student, Melissa believes her example instilled the calling in her at a young age. Melissa volunteered as a candy striper and in housekeeping at King’s Daughters. Ultimately she became the only Connelly child to pursue a career in medicine. But still, her family tree is full of dentists, physicians and nurses.

“My grandmother used to say, ‘There are 56 doctors in our family — that’s including you Behnk!’ referring to Ernie,” Melissa said while laughing.

Although she never worked in nursing at King’s Daughters, she has been a patient. “Through my advisory role, I am proud to have a forum where I can express ideas for improving care,” she said. “It is my job to see through the eyes of our most vulnerable.”

She hopes to help King’s Daughters build on an already solid foundation so future generations can reap its benefits.

“I remember the hospital being so small as a child and now look at it!” she said. “It remains the center of our community and I am proud to be a part of its history and future.”

“Melissa is so dedicated and such an integral part of the advisory council. She is deeply rooted in King’s Daughters and in bettering the healthcare experience for all,” says Jane McClelland, patient experience manager.

If you’re interested in being a Patient Family Centered Care advisor, click here.