For the 61 million Americans who live in rural areas, their hospital is the lifeblood of the community. Often, it is the only source of emergency, preventive and specialized care within hundreds of miles. But the blue “H” also is a major employer and a pillar of the community’s economic and social fabric.

It is imperative that these networks of caring remain strong and viable for the people who rely on them. That’s why supporting the health and well-being of our rural providers and the patients they serve is one of our top priorities.

Next week’s AHA Rural Health Care Leadership Conference brings together senior executives, physician and nurse leaders, and trustees from rural hospitals and health systems to share powerful insights and strategies for advancing health in rural communities.

The conference features thought leaders and discussions focused on innovative approaches to improve patient quality and safety; strategies for a more sustainable and flexible rural health care workforce; advancements in telehealth, information technology and artificial intelligence; and new models of care and payment that align with rural hospitals’ needs; among many other topics.

In addition, AHA leaders will provide the latest updates from Capitol Hill, including our ongoing efforts to urge Congress to stave off harmful so-called site-neutral payment policies that don’t account for the differences in the care hospitals provide 24/7.

We’ll also discuss a number of advocacy priorities we are fighting for this year on behalf of rural hospitals and health systems. These include:

  • Ensuring critical access hospitals receive cost-based reimbursement from Medicare Advantage plans and ensure prompt payment from insurers for health care services delivered to patients;
  • Securing extensions for the Medicare-dependent hospital program and low-volume Medicare adjustment, which allow rural hospitals to deliver critical services to patients;
  • Enacting a number of policies to bolster and support the workforce; and
  • Protecting the 340B Drug Pricing Program from harmful and unnecessary changes.

One of the best parts of the AHA Rural Health Care Leadership Conference is the opportunity to reinforce our messages so our field can speak with one voice about the need to support access to rural health care for the tens of millions of Americans who depend on it.

The challenges that all hospitals face now are amplified for our rural care providers, many of whom are in fragile financial health. Beyond discussion of the challenges, we want attendees to leave the conference knowing that they’re not alone and that solutions exist to the challenges they face.

Every hospital regardless of size or location is a cornerstone of the community they serve. The AHA is proud to support and advocate with our rural health care providers so they can continue to advance health for the patients and communities they serve.

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