September 2018: Great Stories Will Help Get You Upstream. How Do You Tell Them?


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Vol 1 Issue 6

Dear friends,

Of all the skills that belong in an upstream-healthcare toolkit, there is one that might be less than obvious: storytelling. More and more, however, I’m convinced that it’s essential.

As my colleagues and I travel the country meeting people who aspire to move healthcare upstream, they increasingly ask us for storytelling advice. They want to know: How do we talk about this work? How do we explain its importance and meaning to internal and external stakeholders? How do we plant this mission in people’s hearts and minds?


The answer, inevitably, involves a well-told story.


Consider the power of story in Nancy Rockett Eldridge’s upstream work. Nancy is CEO of the National Well Home Network, which helps communities build systems of support for healthy aging. Twice a year, she co-teaches a NeighborWorks America course for community development organizations on health and housing partnerships, aiming to bring comprehensive upstream health systems to affordable housing nationwide.


“Our goal with this course is for housers to take responsibility for the health and well-being of their residents,” Nancy says. “It is the perfect platform for health intervention.”


Her students, who range from resident service coordinators to CEOs, already want to make a difference and understand that one-off projects won’t get them there. What they need is a clear vision for a better way and the inspiration to enact it. I was moved to learn recently that Nancy’s students watch my TED Talk, in which I tell two stories: the upstream parable of three friends and a river, and the saga of my patient Veronica, whose substandard housing fueled her sickness.


“You can explain and explain to students about new practices and their importance”, Nancy says, “and a bit of information will stick”. But tell a story, and “you can tell from the look in their eye that they’re getting it.” After class, students ask Nancy if they can take that video home and show it to their boards of directors.


That kind of impact is why we’re investing in storytelling at HealthBegins — and helping our partners practice it, too. The Upstreamist in Action series on our blog spotlights changemakers who show that the journey upstream is not only necessary, it’s possible. As part of our work with Allina Health, we’re co-crafting educational webinars in which Allina staff inspire their colleagues with their own upstream stories.


And now, we’re officially making storytelling a part of our services. We believe it’s such a powerful practice that we’re teaming up with narrative experts to help clients spot the great stories that already exist in their work and shape them into memorable presentations to support upstream care.


Amazing upstream stories are hiding everywhere. Do you have one? Tell it! The more we share these tales, the faster we can move our colleagues, our patients, and ourselves upriver.



Rishi Manchanda

New from The Upstreamist, the HealthBegins Blog:

Key Lessons on Structural Racism & Health Equity: Highlights from the HealthBegins Webinar

Our recent webinar on healthcare’s role in fighting structural racism drew record-setting attendance and a passionate discussion. The conversation must not end there. To carry it forward and help catalyze passion into action, here is a summary of key lessons learned in the webinar, with contributions from the Southern Jamaica Plain Health Center and AcademyHealth. Let this be the first of many resources that we and you, our community, share. 

A Hospital Marketer Pushes Primary Care Upstream

Upstreamist in Action: As a community-relations specialist, Jessica Saunders knew the community around Dayton Children’s Hospital deeply. Then she used that closeness to the community, along with Upstream QI, to lead her hospital upstream.

Charting a Course for Social Determinants of Health

Healthcare systems are talking about moving upstream. The Upstream Strategy Compass can help them get there.

Coming soon! Watch for an invite to our October webinar:The Journey Upstream: Designing Measures for Success

As we paddle upstream to address social needs and improve health, we need to gauge our progress regularly and make swift course corrections. This presentation demystifies the measurement of complex outcomes, equipping participants with the essential knowledge to evaluate the impact of upstream interventions at three important scales: for individuals, institutions, and communities.

Upcoming Events: Find HealthBegins Here

Hawaii Medical Service Association Western Leadership Conference
October 1 | WaileaOfficers and executives gather at this annual conference to share ideas and strategies to empower people and communities in their own health and well-being.The Root Cause Coalition Summit
October 9 | New Orleans
Representatives from healthcare, nonprofits, the faith community, researchers, clinicians, government leaders, educators, and businesses share best practices and discuss how to best address the social determinants of health.American Public Health Association Annual Meeting
November 10-14 | San Diego

More than 12,000 professionals attend this forum for new public-health research, where HealthBegins will present an abstract.

Upstream Opportunities

The social-justice conference Facing Race 2018 takes place Nov. 8-10in Detroit. Its workshops and presentations provide information and resources on racial equity for organizers, educators, creatives, and other leaders.

The Association for Community Health Improvement is accepting proposals for presentations for its 2019 National Conference, which takes place March 19-21 in Chicago. This year’s theme, One Voice, recognizes that population health leaders come from multiple sectors and professions, and that by coming together with one voice we can drive transformation for health equity and well-being in our communities.

If you have opportunities you’d like us to share, please email us at

Upstream News

Curated highlights of happenings affecting upstream care. Links are not endorsements.

When a Hospital Play Housing Developer

Researchers Use EHR System to Screen Social Determinants of Health
Clinical Innovation+Technology

Could Patient-Provider Relationships Reduce Provider Burnout?

Kaiser Permanente Eyes Carbon Neutrality, Better Community Health With Renewable Energy Deal
Healthcare Finance

Low-Income Californians Feel Twice the Burn from Wildfires
Kaiser Health News

What Are Health Funders Supporting, and What’s on the Horizon?
Health Affairs Blog

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