This Dartmouth Institute Fellow is Helping to ‘Rethink’ Health at the Community Level

On a Friday in late October, Dartmouth Institute Health Policy Fellow Ellen Fahey is busy manning the ReThink Health information booth at Great Apple Crunch on the Dartmouth Green. The event, which serves as the kickoff to Dartmouth Food Day, is part of the National Food Day Celebration, and the ReThink Health booth highlights the non-profit’s work around the topic of making healthy food affordable and accessible. The few hours Fahey spends talking to attendees, answering questions and explaining ReThink’s mission is just a small but highly representative part of the work she’s been doing for the organization since starting her two-year tenure as a Dartmouth Institute fellow in July.Dartmouth Institute Fellow Ellen Fahey (right) mans the ReThink Health booth at the Great Apple Crunch on the Dartmouth green.

“I have some background in community health and health communications, so I think that allowed me to dive right in and start working,” says Fahey, a native of Northern Kentucky who grew up so close to the Ohio border that she considers herself more of a Mid-Westerner than a Southerner.

Fahey’s work for ReThink includes helping the organization, which is housed at The Dartmouth Institute, develop a communications plan and outreach strategy to raise its profile among residents, businesses and health care providers in the Upper Connecticut River Valley (UCRV) region. This work includes everything from helping to create a new brand image and website to writing media releases to connecting with potential partners among the area’s many community-based organizations.

“Our goal is to bring people, organizations, businesses, and local government together in the effort to improve health outcomes in the region,” Fahey says. “One of the things we’re working on is creating a town-level health database that is accessible to local organizations. Right now, there’s only county- and state-level data available but having the town-level data accessible encourages collaboration among partners and helps to create better community programs.”

Along those lines, Fahey also has been working on one of the organization’s first community health surveys. “It’s on advance care planning, which is basically planning for a time when you may not able to make your own healthcare decisions.” she says. “Our goal is to survey adults 18 and over in the UCRV about what they know and think about advance care planning for themselves and their family members. We want to find out what the barriers are to advance care planning. Our hope is that this information will allow UCRV health care and community organizations to better distribute resources and information that support advance care planning.”

Fahey’s interest in public health and health policy began when she was an undergraduate majoring in public relations at the University of South Carolina. During her junior year, she interned at the South Carolina Institute for Medicine and Public Health, an organization focused on improving the health status of South Carolinians.

“They were such an inspiring group,” Fahey says. “They did a lot of work connecting grassroots community organizers with legislators so the two groups could better communicate and work more effectively on issues like the state’s high rate of obesity and Type II diabetes.”

To get a more international perspective on public health policy, Fahey earned a Master of Science from the University of Durham in England after graduating from USC. “In the UK and Europe, they seem to be more forward thinking (than the U.S.) when it comes to looking at the social determinants of public health,” she says. “It was great exposure and it was kind of foreshadowing for the work I’m doing now at ReThink.”

Although Fahey is quick to talk about how much her work at ReThink Health has helped her build her skills in health communications, she admits that it hasn’t made future career decisions any easier.

“I still love working in both health communications and health policy. Career wise, I don’t know if I can make a decision to focus on one over the other yet,” she says with a slight smile.

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