In September, on-demand health care startup Ready announced it had raised $54 million in Series C funding. The announcement coincided with the four-year-old company’s rapid and ambitious expansion in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis.
The New Orleans-based company now has a new goal in mind: vaccine deployment.
Ready plans on distributing thousands of flu shots this winter, both for the standard public health benefits and to build out contingency plans for when a COVID-19 vaccine becomes widely available.
In the six major markets where it operates, the home- and community-based services company has already conducted thousands of in-home COVID-19 tests. The safest and most effective way to deliver vaccines will also be in the home, some experts believe.
No COVID-19 vaccine has received emergency-use authorization or full approval in the U.S., but some experts — including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease authority — are bullish one will be available in spring or summer 2021. Ready wants to be prepared for the potential role it can play.
“The next piece in terms of using that [Series C] funding is actively working to deploy vaccines,” Carl Marci, the chief psychiatrist at Ready, told Home Health Care News. “And we will start with flu vaccines as a trial to sort of work through the workflows with our Responders, putting [best practices] in place.”
As part of its operating model, Ready deploys “Ready Responders” — individuals trained as EMTs, paramedics and nurses — into patients’ homes. All Responders are connected to Ready’s platform through their phones and are also equipped with iPads, as well as various testing and monitoring equipment.
GV — the venture capital arm of Alphabet Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOGL), the parent company of Google — played a large part in Ready’s most recent funding round. Overall, the company has raised $107 since launching, according to Crunchbase.
“We recognize the importance of flu immunizations, especially during what could be a ‘twindemic,’ so it’s very important everyone gets that flu shot,” Marci said. “So we’re rapidly trying to deploy that. And a lot of that is also in anticipation of a COVID vaccine. When it comes, we want to be ready.”
Ready currently serves the Louisiana communities of New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Houma and Shreveport. It also operates in New York — where it expanded when COVID-19 cases intensified — as well as Baltimore, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Reno, Nevada.
Its next step is to expand services in Texas and Pennsylvania in the near future. It will additionally seek to continue expanding in the places where it already has a stronger footprint.
Even as it expands, COVID-19 testing remains a priority. The company has continued its efforts, with eyes focused on the holiday season and helping family members safely gather.
Specifically, Ready is using antigen testing and the BD VeritorTM System for rapid detection of the virus. Once Ready receives necessary CLIA approvals, it will expand rapid testing to additional markets outside of New Orleans.
“In terms of its sensitivity, specificity and its ease of use at the point of care, it really felt like a great option for us,” Marci said. “So we went down the path to secure a vendor, get tests and work through the protocols, which we’ve done in New Orleans.”
Moving into mental health
In addition to testing and various physical health screenings, Ready is venturing into mental health.
“We had a crisis in mental health before COVID,” Marci said. “And COVID has exacerbated many of the cracks and fissures in our society and health care system. The issues around mental health only got bigger.”
There has been a considerable increase in mental health issues during the COVID-19 crisis, most health care consumer surveys suggest. In turn, access to support services has become an even bigger issue, Marci said.
The mental health focus is a part of Ready’s Community Care program, which is live in both Louisiana and Nevada. The program is one of Ready’s core service lines, and its goal is to assist its partners with “high-utilizers” and hospital “frequent flyers,” or patients who experience adverse health events at higher-than-normal levels.
Many times, such high-risk patients are hospitalized with a health concern that they believe to be strictly physical, though the root cause is actually tied to mental health. Initial hospital review often does not reveal that underlying mental-health trigger.
“Usually those surface-level health problems are the physical manifestation of the issue, but it could really be that a patient is anxious or depressed,” Marci said. “And they’re anxious or depressed because they have housing insecurity, financial insecurity or job insecurity.”
The Community Care program’s purpose is to work with these patients in a comprehensive way to address their physical, mental and social health needs. Then Ready bridges the gap in their care and connects them to the resources they need.
The program doesn’t just connect patients to outside resources available locally, however. Now, the company is hiring its own licensed clinical social workers to form longer-term relationships with individuals with mental-health needs in its network.
“We’re excited to see where it goes,” Marci said. “[Having] the Responder in the home, making that face-to-face, intimate connection is vital. Our Responders are from the community, so they know the neighborhoods and they’re familiar faces, not some complete stranger in a white coat.”