Last month, regular H&HN Daily contributor Ian Morrison wrote a compelling column (aren't they all?) on reinventing rural health. In it he discussed the multitude of challenges facing rural providers — staff shortages, payer mix, capital and IT gaps, and more. The column also spends a fair amount of time discussing the hurdles rural providers will face as we move to a value-based, accountable care system.

 

In a bit of an understatement, he wrote: "Rural health is tough to manage, from both a policy and practical point of view." But he's then quick to note: "As we redesign the overall health care delivery system from volume to value, we raise the question of what happens to rural health care. While the challenges described here are real, in my travels I detect a growing openness to reinvention of rural health among community leaders and hospital CEOs across the country."

I couldn't agree more. I'm always amazed by the can-do attitude exhibited by rural health care leaders. They approach the hurdles in front of them head on, knowing that in so many cases they are the lifelines of their communities. That's part of the reason that I'm eager to board a plane Saturday afternoon and head to Phoenix for the 25th Annual Rural Health Care Leadership Conference. Year in, year out, it is one of my favorite meetings (and I'm not just saying that because it's our meeting).

 

This year, a record-breaking 560-plus rural hospital executives and trustees will gather at the Point Hilton Squaw Peak Resort to share ideas on how they can and are improving care for their communities. It was a harder ticket to get than the Super Bowl! What sessions am I looking forward to? There's one on governing executive pay, a sensitive subject in these hard economic times; another one on building a medical home in rural areas; and one about figuring out when, or if, a rural hospital should affiliate or stay independent.

Our keynote speakers should prove thought-provoking as well. Monday afternoon we'll hear from a panel on how the Affordable Care Act is/will impact rural providers. Joseph Bujak will talk on Wednesday about the changing relationship between rural hospitals and physicians. Of course, the meeting wouldn't be complete without a presentation from governance guru James Orlikoff. And in between all of these sessions and speeches, plenty of time to network and trade war stories. In fact, that's always a highlight for me — spending some face time with the rural execs in attendance. They are always gracious with their time and honest in their assessment of how things are going.

There's a lot packed into the three-day meeting. And I'll be on hand to bring you "live" reports all week in H&HN Daily. We'll feature some of the speakers in video interviews on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday; and we'll have blog reports Monday — Thursday.

Now, if I can just remember where I put that TSA-sanctioned 3-1-1 plastic bag to hold my liquids, gels and aerosols.

Matthew Weinstock is senior editor of Hospitals & Health Networks. You can reach him at mweinstock@healthforum.com.