Rippl Care CEO: ‘Our system is not ready’ to provide mental health care for the elderly

According to Chris Engskov, the US health care system is not prepared to take care of a growing elderly population and the mental health challenges that come with that.

That’s why he started Rippl Care.

As CEO and co-founder, Engskov leads a startup that seeks to combine highly specialized care, technology, and home services to address the mental health of older adults in a way that keeps them at home longer and away from long-term care facilities.

Rippl Care came out of stealth mode last week with $32 million in seed funding. The round was led by two venture capital firms: Chicago-based ARCH Venture Partners and Cambridge, Massachusetts-based General Catalyst. Ingskov and his co-founders had mocked the release of more information about the company in the week before the investment was announced

BHB was first reported Engskov project in March He sought to build the company’s leadership team. Rippl co-founded with Inca Dieterich, who has been a partner at ARCH Venture Partners since 2020. She is also Vice President and Partner in Strategy and Innovation.

Engskov, a former Clinton White House administrator and former Starbucks (Nasdaq: SBUX) CEO, left as president of Washington-based Aegis Living in September 2021 to start an unnamed company at the time.

The following questions and answers have been modified for length, clarity and style.

BHB: What is Rippl Care? What does Rippl Care do?

Engskov: It’s a highly specialized, tech-enabled network of people that helps keep people at home and out of the emergency room with a range of mental health conditions from dementia.

What do you do, or what do you do? I’ll try to answer this in the context of what we think are the trade-offs. This does not exist today, what we are trying to offer. It doesn’t exist primarily because fee-for-service healthcare doesn’t pay for it. That is why we try to deal with it in a value-based manner.

We may not start out on value, but that’s the ambition because we want to get paid for results and do it at a lower cost which is what I’m confident we can do.

First, we want to provide 24/7 crisis behavioral support to patients and families.

Second, we want to provide mobility and care coordination and that’s the big format that Medicare doesn’t pay for for service fees. How do you help people during the trip? Because it is long.

Also, a specialized medical department. Most of these people suffer from multiple chronic diseases. Often, it is not considered holistically.

Finally, we want to offer psychotherapy both to the able patient as well as to the family because we know that the tipping point, usually, for long-term care, is that the caregiver is not the patient.

In the long term, we will add remote patient monitoring.

It looks like your team has been very successful in fundraising. You call this a seed round, right?

Yes, it is a seed round. I admit it’s a big seed round.

We incubated the company within Arch Ventures.

While I understand that the primary condition it seeks to address is dementia and other cognitive needs, why would we classify Rippl Care as a behavioral health company?

I think we’ve been more consistent in saying mental health because that’s a broader category and more broadly represents what we’re trying to do.

We’re starting with dementia and neurocognition but fully anticipate that we’ll want to help people with depression and anxiety. Older adults experience these mental health conditions, on a large scale, in a very different way than most other groups.

We expect to have a broad impact on mental health conditions in this category.

So the services you provide aren’t just for people with dementia or other neurological problems? Suppose a senior is really struggling with the transitions in his life and is showing symptoms of depression. Does Ripple Care help this patient even though they don’t have dementia?

definitely. Dementia is just a starting point for us because we believe there is an urgent need. We anticipate that our psychological services will be applicable to a wide range of circumstances. This is why we have the dedicated team we are building.

Does Rippl Care have go-to-home providers yet?

No, we haven’t started the service yet. We expect to start service later this fall. But we’ve built a team, and we’re recruiting doctors – primarily advanced practice nurses, licensed social workers, and community health workers.

We expect to serve our first patient later this year.

Does your team have goals for early hiring rounds in terms of a home-based workforce?

I hesitate to speculate because we’ll take the amount of time we need to figure out how the model works best. We have been inspired by a lot of models of collaborative care out there and there have been many models of collaborative care that CMMI has tried over the past few years that have shown really great results.

But this model is different in terms of how it uses technology, how people deploy (both virtual and on the ground), and the like.

In terms of broad categories, what types of technology does Rippl Care use?

We are very early. I can’t give you too many details.

But what I can say is that we totally expect to build our own platform to do the work that we’re going to do, which is really aimed at realizing our mantra around doctor obsession. If I had to describe our philosophy in a really basic way it’s this: How do we take care of our doctors so they can go take care of the elderly we care about?

A big part of that has to be about designing a technology platform that revolves around making their time with the patient valuable and efficient and allowing them to work at the top of their license.

We’re just getting started, but that’s the ambition of the technology.

Just taking a stab in the dark here – will this leave space for telehealth?

I expect that a great deal of our services will be available approx. This is one of our biggest opportunities.

While we think having a strong ground game is important over time, we know a lot of that care can actually be provided effectively. In fact, it can be a very big opening for people in rural communities who don’t have access to this kind of specialized help.

What is your first short-term goal? What is your number one long-term goal?

Our short-term goal is to operate our first network and refine this model. This model of care we are creating is new and has never been implemented before. It has a lot of moving parts that will need to be tested. This is the most important thing we do.

Of all the things that have been talked about in the past three years that have been created and funded, there has been a huge focus on the field of pediatrics and youth medicine. I haven’t seen anything specifically focused on this type of specialized mental health care for seniors.

There are roughly 20 million people out there that we can classify as older and have some sort of cognitive challenge. Half of these people have dementia and the vast majority of them have Alzheimer’s disease. This is where we started because we believe it is urgent and this is an urgent need.

Our system is not ready today and we haven’t reached our first baby boomers who are 85 years old and have a 1 in 3 chance of developing dementia once you reach 85.

We will learn a lot over the next few months about how to provide this highly specialized care. And I think we can be really leverage with primary care providers and other potential partners and help them bridge that gap in care.

This is the long-term goal.

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