Less than a decade ago, Heal co-founder Nick Desai would regularly drive around Los Angeles with his wife and business partner, Dr. Renee Dua, carrying out their very first house calls.
Since then, Desai has helped grow Heal into an in-home primary care powerhouse that has raised roughly $164.1 million since launching, including $100 million in backing from Humana Inc. (NYSE: HUM) alone. Apart from the fundraising success, Heal has expanded into several new markets while rolling out complementary telehealth services and a “health assurance” offering.
With all those accomplishments in tow, Desai revealed Tuesday that he’s stepping down as Heal’s CEO.
“I’ve been running Heal for six-and-a-half years, and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it,” Desai told Home Health Care News prior to the announcement. “But, you know, there comes a time where it is just a lot.”
Desai had been considering stepping down as Heal’s CEO for a while, but initially wanted to wait until the COVID-19 pandemic was over, he said. His views began to change, however, as Heal continued to solidify its team — and as a potential replacement suddenly surfaced.
Replacing Desai is Scott Vertrees, who was most recently a co-founder and managing member with Javergo Partners LLC. Vertrees officially took the helm at Heal last Monday.
“I want to take a step back and catch my breath,” Desai said. “I want to return to my entrepreneurial roots, to start thinking about what’s next. There’s a really, really good team in place at Heal, with great investors, support and market traction.”
In February, Heal expanded into the new markets of Illinois, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina. When combined with its previously existing footprint in California, New York, Washington and a handful of other key locations, that opened up Heal’s services to an estimated 134 million health care consumers.
Demand for Heal’s services increased by a whopping 540% last year, with similarly high utilization across both its telemedicine and house call offerings.
“I was just talking to someone and they asked me, ‘You know, looking back, what are you most proud of? What are you most surprised by?’” Desai recalled. “I said that we set out to change an industry. In doing so, we created an industry, right? House calls are the way people think about the best care delivery now. Every major payer has a home-central strategy. They’re trying to figure out how to do this. Even the large, stoic hospital groups are thinking about ‘home, home, home,’ right?”
Dr. Renee Dua will remain in her role as chief medical officer.
As for Desai, he’s now focused on his next big idea. He already knows what he wants to focus on, too: health equity.
“I’m looking at that scale of challenges in health care and exploring who’s going to create the health care solution that is used not by 100,000 or 1 million but rather 100 million Americans, equally, to needful patients around the world,” he said.
Health equity has grown into a major issue since the start of the pandemic, with Black and non-white communities at higher risk of contracting serious or even deadly cases of the COVID-19 virus.
Low-income groups have similarly been found to have a reduced access to health care services such as telehealth.
“It was recently reported that 85% of telehealth users come from households with an income over $150,000 — meaning much work remains in creating truly accessible, effective solutions that are equally and easily available to those who need it most,” Desai said. “As of now, I am an entrepreneur again, and this will be a new focus for me, while I still remain supportive of all Heal has and will continue to do.”
Residential primary care visits were common in the 1930s and earlier, when roughly 40% of all patient-doctor visits took place in the home, according to researchers. Things have changed since then, but Heal has helped lead the charge on the return of house calls.
Desai doesn’t know what his next venture will be at this point, but odds are the home will be a part of its delivery model.
“The home is right place for care,” Desai said.