Highlights of the 2024 AHA Rural Health Care Leadership Conference

Highlights of the 2024 AHA Rural Health Care Leadership Conference

Pollack opened the conference; AHA Board President shares rural health challenges and hope for the future
Nearly 1,100 rural health care practitioners and leaders gathered in Orlando for AHA’s 37th Rural Health Care Leadership Conference. The annual event brings together rural hospital CEOs, senior executives, clinical leaders and trustees to share strategies, insights and resources unique to the rural health system.

The session on February 12 began with remarks from AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack, who welcomed attendees and noted the important role hospitals play, particularly in rural communities. He addressed the need to prepare for the future by using transformative solutions while maintaining access to quality health care despite rural hospitals facing myriad challenges such as workforce shortages, disrupted supply chains, and lack of reimbursement. But with these challenges also comes optimism, as rural hospitals are in a unique position to shape the future of health care delivery through access, trust, and innovation.

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“As our population ages — which is faster and more so in rural America — we will see increasing demand for the management of chronic conditions,” Pollack said. “And here’s the thing, people want to get care in their community – closest to their homes, near their family, friends, neighbors and support systems. And (rural hospitals) are best positioned to provide that care given this wave of need.

AHA Board of Trustees Chair Joan Conroy, MD, CEO and President of Dartmouth Health, discussed the importance of advocating for rural hospitals and communities, particularly around financial stability, workforce, telehealth and behavioral health. As a CEO and physician of a rural health care system, Conroy shared first-hand examples of the need to protect rural health care access and ensure continued quality care for rural communities.

Leaders discuss innovations and solutions to address challenges facing rural care settings
Leaders from rural health care facilities across the country shared their experiences and insights on February 12 during a plenary session on innovation and access to rural health care. AHA Board of Trustees Chair-elect Tina Freese-Decker, president and CEO of Corwell Health in Grand Rapids, Michigan, hosted the afternoon session. “Rural health care is ripe for innovation,” he said. “But it is challenging, we all know that. At times, we may feel stuck in providing the same service or not changing our services due to our limited resources or expectations from others. But if we don’t do something new and bold, who will? “And then what will happen to our community if we do not continue to strive for better health for all?”

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This was followed by a panel discussion, moderated by Michelle Hood, AHA’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, and featuring leaders from five rural hospitals, who covered topics including financial sustainability, workforce shortages, care delivery and access. Share your insights and experiences on the innovations that have taken place.

Concluding the session was a fiery conversation about primary care services offered by retailers, payer-owned providers and advanced primary care disruptors, including representatives from CVS Health and Dollar General. The discussion was moderated by Chris DeRienzo, AHA senior vice president and chief physician executive.

Queens North Hawaii Community Hospital honored for collaborative leadership and transformational change
AHA Board of Trustees Chair Joan Conroy, MD, presented the 2023 Rural Hospital Leadership Team Award to Queens North Hawaii Community Hospital in Waimea for their work on eliminating health disparities among the Native Hawaiian community. Queens North Hawaii Community Hospital President Stephanie Nihipali Violeti accepted the award on behalf of the hospital.

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