Kenneth N. Melman MD
SeattleNTC Founder, Emeritus Partner
In 2007, Seattle Neuropsychiatric Treatment Center’s founder, Kenneth Melman MD, formed a practice which, in 2010, would become SeattleNTC. However, the roots of SeattleNTC stretch back to the Midwest in the 1970s. Having been a psychology major at University of Michigan, Dr. Melman entered medical school intending to pursue a career in Psychiatry. In the mid-1970s, Washington University School of Medicine, in Dr. Melman’s hometown of St. Louis, was a hub in a network of academic Departments of Psychiatry which were working toward defining objective and precise diagnostic criteria for psychiatric illnesses, a focus which would deeply influence his future career. Early in medical school, Dr. Melman completed a research project related to these emerging criteria, and later began to develop a keen interest in electroconvulsive therapy (ECT).
“My greatest satisfaction comes from helping patients and family members transform hopelessness and despair to hopefulness, relief and sometimes even joy.”
As he progressed through his clinical rotations at WashU, Dr. Melman found himself also drawn to Internal Medicine and Neurology. This indecision ultimately led to offers from training programs in all three specialties! He ultimately decided that a foundation in Internal Medicine would be useful no matter where his career went. He accepted a spot in the Internal Medicine Residency Program at Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, Washington, a sought-after training program attracting many of the best graduates from well-respected medical schools around the country.
In the early 1980s, Dr. Melman temporarily relocated to Los Angeles to complete his Psychiatry residency at University of California – Los Angeles, widely regarded as the best program west of the Mississippi. UCLA offered excellent training in both psychotherapy and biological psychiatry. Dr. Melman was one of two Chief Residents at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute, a role in which he taught medical students and first-year residents how to perform ECT.
Returning to Seattle, Dr. Melman eventually settled into a position at Providence Seattle Medical Center and provided ECT as part of his practice there. He was appointed Medical Director of Behavioral Health Services at Providence Seattle and continued in that role when Swedish acquired the Providence campus – now Swedish Cherry Hill – in 2000. Dr. Melman was an active member of the Medical Staff leadership for many years. He was instrumental in keeping the Inpatient Psychiatry Service and the ECT Service at Providence/Swedish through multiple attempts to outsource these services during tumultuous times in the 1990s and 2000s.
Dr. Melman’s advocacy for psychiatric patients who have run out of other options, and for making ECT and other brain stimulation treatments more available and accepted, is well-known to colleagues of all specialties here in Seattle and throughout the wider Northwest region. His efforts have been praised privately in conversations with CEOs and CMOs, out loud at medical staff meetings and medical center board retreats, and even in the media. Dr. Melman appeared in a national magazine article written by one of his ECT patients and in an NBC News feature about a well-known athlete who had ECT as well. In both cases, grateful patients used their platform to speak up against the stigma of mental health issues in general and ECT specifically.
As he put SeattleNTC together, Dr. Melman realized that meeting the growing needs of this region was a project bigger than a solo practitioner could accomplish. He sought counsel from leaders in the Seattle medical community, especially the Executive Director of the Swedish Neuroscience Institute (SNI). At the beginning, SeattleNTC was the Neuropsychiatric Program of Swedish SNI. Dr. Melman was an early adopter of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which has become a crucial instrument in the doctors’ black bag of modern psychiatry. His relationships with neurosurgeons at Swedish Cherry Hill also allowed seamless management of patients with vagus nerve stimulators (VNS) and deep brain stimulators (DBS).
Through this formative period, Dr. Melman began recruiting psychiatrists to join SeattleNTC, sharing his vision for a center that would offer an array of options for people struggling with difficult-to-treat depression. That he was able to hire not only some of the best University of Washington graduates, but also recruit psychiatrists from respected departments across the country, is testament to the influence of Dr. Melman’s enthusiasm and SeattleNTC’s core mission.
In April 2019, Drs. Rebecca M. Allen, Jesse Adams, and Joshua Bess assumed ownership and responsibility for the management of SeattleNTC. Dr. Melman stayed on as a part-time employee, spending his time advising the next generation of SeattleNTC leaders on questions big and small; some that he previously had to puzzle over on his own as a solo practitioner and managing partner of a new practice, and some that were brand new challenges never faced before by psychiatrists anywhere.
In July 2020, Dr. Melman made the difficult decision to retire. Many parts of his legacy are quite visible:
– an outpatient clinic with 6 treatment sites in 5 cities,
– a close relationship with both Swedish and Providence, melding the resources of a large health system and the agility of an independent practice,
– the busiest ECT program in the Northwestern United States, co-located with the inpatient psychiatric service, at Swedish Ballard
– a robust TMS practice which has helped many hundreds of patients, and
– a group of 6 psychiatric physicians and more than 20 clinical and support staff whose primary mission is helping people who otherwise are left with few options.
Other aspects of Dr. Melman’s legacy, less obvious but in some ways more important, are also being carried out by SeattleNTC:
– active advocacy, within local institutions and at the state level, for access to ECT and other life-saving treatments,
– educating the next generation of psychiatrists about brain stimulation therapies via a 6-month elective for UW Psychiatry residents,
– educating colleagues of all disciplines about brain stimulation interventions,
– speaking to members of the community, directly and through the media, to attack stigma and increase awareness of treatment options, and
– offering compassionate, collaborative care to people – and families – who are suffering through the worst times of their lives.
On behalf of Drs. Jesse Adams and Rebecca M. Allen, the rest of the SeattleNTC team, the ECT Department staff at Swedish Medical Center, and all of the physicians and patients whose lives he touched, I wish Dr. Ken Melman the very best in his next adventures, especially as a grandfather and world traveler. With his brilliant and lovely wife, Kathy, at his side my guess is that this next chapter will be even more exciting than the last!
– Joshua Bess MD, Managing Partner/Medical Director, SeattleNTC