For nearly two decades, Steve Kelly provided dedicated and compassionate service as president and CEO of Newton Medical Center — but that level of commitment "got in his blood" long before he arrived in Kansas.

Over the course of 43 years, Kelly worked his way up the health care administration ladder from admissions clerk to business office manager to Chief Operating Officer to Chief Executive Officer at hospitals in Texas, Virginia, Oklahoma and Kansas. All along the way, Kelly was focused on providing the best care no matter the role — a goal that led to him being named this year's recipient of the Kansas Hospital Association's Charles S. Billings Award.

Recognizing distinguished service and outstanding contributions to the field of health care in Kansas, it is a fitting award for Kelly, especially in the eyes of his successor at NMC.

"Steve is a visionary who can see a clear pattern where most others observe only chaos, and using this talent he led the hospital through a period of unprecedented growth and vitality," said current NMC president and CEO Val Gleason. "He is an encourager extraordinaire, but most of all Steve is selfless and giving, kind and thoughtful, joyful and funny, and to have met him and worked with him you come away knowing you are a better person."

Through Kelly's 17 years with NMC, there were six facility additions and gross revenue grew from $50 million to more than $200 million annually.

Numerous primary care and specialty clinics were also added under Kelly's leadership, as well as many new services at the hospital. Among those numerous achievements, though, simply helping people and fostering supportive bonds was what Kelly admitted he was most proud of over the years.

"As much as anything, it's been forming relationships with the ones who work in health care — whether it's from the board, the physicians or my coworkers — to being an important part of the community and being relied on by schools and the individuals, just people in general, for good, quality health care," Kelly said. "I think those relationships, more than anything else, are what I valued most."

Kelly fostered numerous relationships throughout other roles as well, serving in numerous positions with the KHA, as well as being a fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives (and an adjunct faculty member for numerous institutions).

“Steve is highly respected throughout Kansas and many seek his counsel. He was always incredibly generous with the time he devoted to KHA, whether it was service on our board, representing hospitals on KanCare issues or traveling to Washington, D.C., to tell the hospital story to our Congressional representatives,” said Tom Bell, president and CEO of the Kansas Hospital Association.

Difficulties have not been uncommon, like the recessions of 2008, but Kelly admitted that was one of his best memories in his time serving NMC. Amidst nationwide struggles, Kelly and hospital leadership remained committed to preserving NMC's mission in looking out for patients, as well as protecting jobs —with Kelly proud to say that turned out to be one of the hospital's strongest years, and it did not have to make any personnel cuts like many other health care facilities in the region.

While the job can be demanding and overwhelming at times, having to keep up with numerous changes in the field, Kelly said working together as part of a team striving for a greater good fueled him to remain committed to his profession.

"I think it was the satisfaction in being able to see what can be accomplished when you've got a great team with whom you work and you're focused on the goal of providing the best care you can get for your community," Kelly said. "I think when that's accomplished, there's no greater feeling."

Teamwork is a big part of why Kelly has been able to accomplish all that he has, and he is quick to point back to that upon being honored with the Charles S. Billings Award.

Receiving the award is a great honor, Kelly said, not least of which because it comes from those who represent the best of health care leadership in Kansas. He was also quick to note, though, the collective efforts that helped earn him this recognition.

"No reward like this is ever really achieved by just yourself," Kelly said. "Part of that award really goes to the people who worked alongside me — the physicians who were supportive of what we were trying to do and provided great care, a board who was always encouraging and a community I always knew had our backs."

Kelly will be presented with the Billings Award on Sept. 7 during the KHA's annual convention in Wichita.