Looking Back at THA’s 2023 Annual Conference

We reminisce on THA’s most popular conference, convening over 500 Texas hospital executives together to network, honor exemplary leaders and examine the most pressing health care policy priorities in the 88th Legislature as we march to Sine Die.


For the first time since the start of the pandemic, THA hosted its full annual conference without attendance caps or restrictions. After a virtual-only conference in 2021 – which was rescheduled due to Winter Storm Uri – and a smaller-than-usual 2022 conference due to the omicron variant, THA members finally reconvened in Austin, Texas on Valentine’s Day. There was an atmosphere of appreciation for the first semblance of normalcy since 2020.

“While the news media have a reputation for covering only doom and gloom in the health care world, there have been some bright spots peeking out among the clouds,” said John Hawkins, THA president/CEO in his opening remarks. “For starters, we are no longer squarely in the throes of a pandemic. COVID is not gone – but we made it. All Texas hospitals remain open for business.

“And we’re united like never before.”

Focus on Health Care Policy

The timing of THA’s annual conference during a session year affords attendees the unique opportunity to get an inside look at developments in health care policy in real-time. Every day of the 140 days in session are valuable and tumultuous, with news developing by the minute.

Jennifer Banda, J.D., presenting to the hospital priorities panel

By the time conference was underway, the Texas House and Senate’s initial budget bills were reviewed, and assignments were announced for key committees, such as the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. About 3,200 bills have been filed – approximately half of the average 7,500 bills that are filed throughout session – 642 of which are being tracked by THA. During a typical session, THA will track up to 1,500 bills that impact hospitals. From hospital licensure to medical waste disposal, there are many facets of health care that can be legislated.

Aside from tracking bills, THA is already hard at work combatting the false narrative that hospitals were financially enriched by the pandemic. In early February, a special House Select Committee on Health Care was created and charged with examining “excessive health care costs.” Anticipating this perception, THA released a Kaufman Hall report in December 2022 that demonstrates the financial strain the pandemic put on Texas hospitals.

“The march to May 29 is a long one, but we are proud to work on your behalf,” said Jennifer Banda. “We hope to empower you all to be your legislator’s resource. Make sure they know you are a steadfast leader, resource and infrastructure in the communities you serve.”

The conference culminated with a lively discussion featuring some of Texas’ leading political journalists, including Scott Braddock, editor of The Quorum Report, Sewell Chan, editor in chief of the Texas Tribune and Emily Ramshaw, co-founder and CEO of The 19th News, who provided perspective on the nuances of the current state legislature and its potential downstream effects on Texas hospitals.

Panelists pointed out that hospitals are often caught in the crossfire of increasingly polarized and partisan public discourse and bear the brunt of disasters like the pandemic, winter storms, school shootings and controversial politics like the overturning of Roe v. Wade. However, with great responsibility comes great power.

“Hospitals are so critical to the functioning of our communities,” said Ramshaw. “You all yield extraordinary power and you should use it.”

Honoring Texas Hospital Leaders

Every year during its annual conference, THA honors exemplary health care leaders and organizations that were nominated and selected by a committee of their peers the year prior.

Earl M. Collier Award for Distinguished Health Care Administration: Christopher Durovich, FACHE, president and CEO of Children’s Health

The Earl M. Collier Award is the highest honor bestowed by THA. It recognizes outstanding executives who have distinguished themselves through their contributions to the health care industry and their profession, who are leaders in providing quality health care services and active in THA and other industry groups. 

Earl  M. Collier Award for Distinguished Health Care Administration: Christopher Durovich, FACHE, president and CEO of Children’s Health

For the past 20 years, Durovich has led Children’s Health as president and CEO, guiding the organization through extensive growth and transformation, evolving from a single local children’s hospital to a nationally recognized, award-winning, and market-leading pediatric health system serving one of the nation’s fastest-growing pediatric populations. Today, the system serves more than 300,000 unique patients annually across 800,000 separate patient encounters and contributes $3.3 billion to the North Texas economy.

“I am honored and humbled to receive this recognition,” said Durovich. “I would not be here without the extraordinary work and passion of all those at Children’s Health who fulfill our mission to make life better for children. I am proud to serve with and among them.”

Pioneer Award: Jeff Barnhart, FACHE

The Pioneer Award is given to a CEO/administrator of a rural hospital or health care system who demonstrates creative and innovative management achievements and leadership within the organization and community. This award is sponsored by the Texas Hospital Insurance Exchange.

Pioneer Award: Jeff Barnhart, FACHE

Since joining Deaf Smith County Hospital District in 2016 as CEO, Jeff Barnhart has made it his mission to ensure every resident has access to the care they need, when they need it. Barnhart oversees operations of Deaf Smith County Hospital District’s hospital, outpatient clinic, and EMS services. Barnhart never loses sight of the mission to improve the health and quality of life of the individuals and communities DSCHD serves and to be the health care provider of choice for the region. He maintains the necessary big picture, visionary thinking required to run a successful rural hospital while never shying away from the smallest or most menial of tasks if needed to help a patient or team member.

Excellence in Community Service Award: Texas Health Resources, Arlington

The Excellence in Community Service Award recognizes hospitals and health care systems that have distinguished themselves through contributions to their community.

Texas Health Resources in Arlington was awarded the Texas Hospital Association’s Excellence in Community Service Award for implementation of Blue Zones Project®, a neighborhood-by-neighborhood transformation project to improve the health and well-being of people living Fort Worth, Texas.

Hendrick Health received an honorable mention for its ‘A New Day in the Neighborhood’ project which partnered with Day Nursey of Abilene to convert an empty elementary school into a day care facility.

Bill Aston Award for Quality: Academic Institution or Large Teaching Hospital/Health System: University Health

The Texas Hospital Association Bill Aston Award for Quality honors hospitals’ measurable success in improving quality and patient outcomes through the sustained implementation of a national and/or state evidence-based patient care initiative.

Texas University Health in San Antonio was awarded THA’s Bill Aston Award for Quality for its Hospital at Home project, a care model that provides hospital-level of care and addresses patient needs in the comfort of their homes.

Bill Aston Award for Quality: Non-Research/Non-Teaching Hospital/Health System: Texas Health Resources, Arlington

Texas Health Resources in Arlington was awarded THA’s Bill Aston Award for Quality for its Early Recognition and Treatment of Ischemic Stroke project, an innovative approach to improve care and mortality of stroke patients.

Focus on Wellness

There’s a clear shift to embrace physical and mental well-being within the health care industry, which was mirrored throughout the exhibit hall with wellness-themed sponsor breaks. Attendees had the opportunity to meet therapy puppies, take a quick yoga or meditation break and win one of two Pelotons.

Petting dogs in the exhibit hall
Petting dogs in the exhibit hall

Due to popular demand, THA incorporated two breakout sessions focused on wellness and stress prevention and management for health care leaders and clinicians.

Of course, no trip to the Live Music Capital would be complete without live music. During the Welcome to Austin reception, attendees got to network and listen to the popular local Kristen Gibbs Band.

Musicians playing in the exhibit hall

Thank you to all the attendees, sponsors, speakers and staff who contributed to this year’s conference. Your participation enables us to continue offering educational opportunities, expand our services and advocate on behalf of Texas hospitals.

We hope to see you next year at THA’s 2024 Annual Conference & Expo, Feb. 15-16 at the Hyatt Regency Dallas.