By Todd Linden

As a kid, I remember that the best roller coasters were the ones that were both terrifying and exhilarating. You knew it was really awesome when you couldn’t tell the difference between screams of joy or fright. It was fun to look at the pictures the amusement park would take at the same spot in the ride and see all the vastly different looks people had on their faces.

Today, I leave the roller coasters to my children, not wanting to jar my back or neck (aging is such fun!). But it is really OK, since I am riding the craziest roller coaster every day at work. After 27 years as a rural hospital CEO, I just can’t believe that every year the ride just gets more heart-pounding. On the one hand, it is really exciting to see our true mission of improving the health of the community start to be aligned with the financial incentives of population health; yet, in rural America, measuring quality and dealing with governmental cost-based reimbursement can be difficult to navigate. Disruptive technology could vastly change how we deliver primary care. The impact presidential politics will have on health care remains to be seen. Merger and acquisition activities seem to be on the rise as systems grow all around the country. Keeping one’s arms around all this is truly terrifying and exhilarating.

There is one place each winter where rural health care leaders gather to try to make sense of this change. The Health Forum/American Hospital Association Rural Health Care Leadership Conference has become the premier meeting for administrators, trustees, physicians and other clinicians to meet with top-rated speakers to keep up on the latest trends and ideas to stay on track as the sands shift in American health care. With record attendance last year and current registrations trending at all-time highs, it’s clear that this lineup of topics and speakers is just what the “country doctor” ordered.

I’ve actually lost track of how many years I’ve attended this conference; it is just automatic now. I keep coming back, often with several of my board members, because they say it’s the best investment of time they make each year to keep their governance edge. And ours is not the only hospital that has turned it into a “ministrategic planning meeting,” bringing a team of administrators, physicians and trustees. We get to hear great presentations in a comfortable retreatlike setting. Oh, yeah. Did I mention it’s in Phoenix in February? Last year, the weather provided the perfect winter getaway.

The health care roller coaster is, indeed, a wild one right now, so come join us in the sun Feb. 7–10 at the Arizona Grand Resort & Spa for the 29th Annual Rural Health Care Leadership Conference, and help make the ride a bit more exhilarating and less terrifying!


Todd Linden is president and CEO of Grinnell (Iowa) Regional Medical Center and a member of the Health Forum board.