WASHINGTON, D.C. — Spring is winding down here in the nation's capital; most of the cherry blossoms have scattered with the wind, as have members of Congress who are out of town on a nine-day recess. As one tourist remarked concerning the partisan gridlock that has virtually paralyzed the federal government for the last several years, "At least the cherry trees do what they were brought here to do."

Still, throngs of hospital executives and health care officials have descended on Washington to take part in the AHA's annual meeting. For those of us who came in early, the meeting got off to an unofficial, lighthearted start Saturday evening when invitees arrived for the White House Correspondents dinner, which also took place here at the Washington Hilton. Besides the expected media and political hoi polloi, there was a healthy contingent of Hollywood celebrities, who, for security reasons, had to abandon their limos up the hill on Connecticut Avenue and parade down the hotel driveway and through the lobby before a horde of quivering fans and some thoroughly perplexed Hilton guests. We were all kept at bay behind rope barricades just like an old-fashioned movie premiere. I'm not very with it when it comes to pop culture these days, so I situated myself strategically next to a trio of 20-something women who offered shout-outs to every glamorously bedecked, bejeweled and becoifed individual who ran the gauntlet. Among them: Amy Poehler, Michael J. Fox, Michael Douglas, Patrick Stewart, Kevin Spacey, Bradley Cooper, Barbra Streisand, James Brolin, MC Hammer, Emily Blunt and a whole slew of young actors and actresses from TV shows I'd never heard of. As far as I could tell, the only health care celebs taking part in the procession were HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and the ubiquitous Sanjay Gupta, M.D.

By Sunday morning, things were back to normal and, for the hospital folks, the focus returned to the matter at hand: politics, policymaking, legislative paralysis and what it all means for health care. In an Advocacy Action Packet, the AHA laid out a three-point message it hopes members will deliver to their congressional staff when they visit Capitol Hill later in the week: reject arbitrary cuts to Medicare and Medicaid funding, delay disproportionate share hospital payment cuts in the Affordable Care Act, and support the passage of the Medicare Audit Improvement Act of 2013.

In an interview Sunday afternoon, AHA President and CEO Rich Umbdenstock discussed the association's lobbying agenda in more detail.

In my upcoming blog posts and in video interviews conducted by H&HN staff writer Marty Stempniak, we'll report on a range of sessions taking place at this meeting, touching on such critical topics as the health care executive's role in leading patient safety initiatives, effective board leadership in quality efforts, the implications of bundled payment, and hospital-led improvements to advanced illness care. We'll also tell you what some of the well-known speakers have to say, including Bob Woodward, Mark Halperin, Kathleen Parker, Haley Barbour and Ed Rendell. Stay tuned.