WASHINGTON, D.C. — Rich Umbdenstock yesterday expressed his gratitude to American Hospital Association members for being "the most stubborn people in the world."

Speaking at his final AHA Annual Membership Meeting as CEO and president, Umbdenstock said hospital leaders "make it clear every day that health care is a national resource — and that no one is going to pull health care's plug on your watch. You come to Washington, call your legislators and write to federal agencies.  You insist on telling your hospital's story until they understand how their actions will affect the real people who count on you for care. You push forward through fiscal uncertainty, the ridiculous regulations, the mandate of constant, unrelenting change, so you can keep serving those who need you."

Umbdenstock said he is grateful for three "proficiencies" — in addition to stubbornness — that AHA members have demonstrated in his nine years at the association's helm: vision, commitment and collaboration.

Hospital leaders had the vision to recognize that health care needed to change, he said, and they helped the AHA to develop a policy reform framework that came to be known as "Health Care for All — Better Health, Better Care." The framework included five elements: coverage for all, paid for by all; a focus on wellness; most efficient, affordable care; highest quality care; and best information.

Umbdenstock called commitment "a hallmark of every hospital" and "an alternative to fear." Hospital leaders have demonstrated those traits in their response to natural disasters and crises like Ebola, he said, and in pursuing higher quality and more efficient care even in the face of the Great Recession, government shutdowns and "burdensome regulations."

When it comes to collaboration, Umbdenstock said that over the last nine years hospitals have "moved toward an 'all hands on deck' culture" in which they readily share their successes and their failures. He cited the Hospital Engagement Networks, noting that the AHA's Health Research & Educational Trust led the largest of 26 HEN contracts.

"As hospitals, associations and alliances committed to improvement, we avoided 15,000 preventable deaths and over $4 billion," he said. 

Shortly after Umbdenstock's address, AHA Chairman Jonathan Perlin, M.D., introduced Rick Pollack as the next president and CEO of the association. Pollack will take the reins in September, but, Umbdenstock said, "I am not out the door or off the island yet."

"My forecast for America's hospitals shows nothing but great days of loving service ahead," he said. "You are working on all the right things and getting better faster than ever before!"