More than 850 rural health care leaders are in Phoenix this week for the 31st Annual AHA Rural Health Care Leadership Conference. They are participating in educational sessions and sharing strategies and resources to accelerate the shift to a more integrated and sustainable rural health care environment.

During today’s opening session, AHA President and CEO Rick Pollack thanked attendees for the critical role they play in providing care in communities across America and ensuring patients have access to vital health care services. Pollack also discussed major challenges and opportunities for rural hospitals in 2018 and beyond, including those related to value and affordability, chronic care management and consumerism. Watch a short video of Pollack from the conference discussing these issues.

Later in the day, AHA Chair-Elect Brian Gragnolati, president and CEO of Atlantic Health System in Morristown, NJ, led a panel focused on future health care delivery models in rural communities. Gragnolati spoke about how hospitals in different areas of the country will have to pursue models that are right for their patients and their populations, but that all hospitals must work on expanding access, improving health outcomes and lowering the total cost of care. As part of the panel, AHA Board Member Christina Campos, administrator of Guadalupe County Hospital in Santa Rosa, NM; Ronald Paulus, M.D., president and CEO of Mission Health System in Asheville, NC; and Rachelle Schultz, president and CEO of Winona (MN) Health, discussed how strategic collaborations and key stakeholder relationships can be integrated to strengthen the models and drive success.