Celebrating its 30th year, the American Hospital Association Health Forum Rural Health Care Leadership Conference has been a showcase for rural health care innovation and strategy, and this year's event should be no different.

Running Feb. 5-8 in Phoenix, the conference over the years has grown and evolved in design and participation. It now offers education dedicated to hospital boards, as well as organized programming to appeal to the C-suite. If pre-registration is any indication, we can anticipate a full house of leadership teams – CEOs, CMOs, CNOs and trustees – to consider what the future may hold as they seek to align strategy with tactics to advance their mission of caring.

Every year, the American Hospital Association announces its rural advocacy agenda at the beginning of each session of Congress. Borrowing from the AHA’s “Transition 2017” landing page, “The Trump Administration and the 115th Congress are taking shape. First and foremost on health care executives’ minds is what the changes will mean for hospitals’ mission of caring for patients and their community.”

In addition, the AHA’s task force report on "Ensuring Access in Vulnerable Communities" will be vetted in a panel session moderated by Rick Pollack, the association’s president and CEO. The AHA board has been working to address the challenges communities face to maintain access to health care services and welcomes responses to its strategies.

Rural health care leaders are actively transforming their organizations for a new world of accountable care marked by changing payment and delivery models, outcome measurement and reporting, and a greater need for collaboration. You see this demonstrated across the spectrum of workshops and strategy sessions – value-based purchasing, alternative payment models, workforce planning and development, high reliability, performance improvement, care coordination, clinical integration – all prescribe building relationships, forming alliances and sharing scarce resources.

The conference’s “standing agenda items” dedicated to advocacy and policy include the “Rural Hospital Federal Update,” moderated by Maryjane Wurth, executive vice president of the AHA and president and CEO of its affiliate Health Forum. There is a Sunrise Session examining “Key Rural Hospital Policy Issues and Available Resources,” featuring our colleagues from the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy and two of its rural research centers.

General sessions focus on team building, new payment environments, evolving leadership and governance structures, and the resilience necessary to survive and thrive in our changing health care world.

Also, a new and timely session on implementing the Quality Payment Program will dissect what hospitals need to know now about MACRA and the impact it will have on how providers collaborate to deliver safe, high-quality care.

As has been our tradition, we begin the conference by celebrating one of our own – Rod Nelson, CEO, Mackinac Straights Health System, St. Igance, Mich. – with the AHA Rural Hospital Leadership Award. Through his work at MSHS, Rod reflects the resourcefulness and innovation of all small or rural hospital chief executives and administrators who have achieved improvements in local health delivery and health status through their leadership and direction.

And then, of course, there is the networking – meeting old friends, making new ones, celebrating our achievements, mourning our losses and sharing our commitment to a cause – as we advance the mission of caring for patients and our community.

I’ve attended most of the 30 Rural Health Care Leadership Conferences. I was even there for some of its earliest years, when the event was sponsored by the Association of Western Hospitals, which evolved into the HealthCare Forum in 1987, and which, in turn, was acquired by the American Hospital Association in 1998.

The conference this year promises to stretch our minds, touch our hearts and rally our souls. I look forward to seeing you there.