Co-founder, chief health officer, Cityblock Health
Jul 13, 2021
Covid-19 laid bare many inequities in American society, but perhaps none as starkly as those baked into the country’s health and social safety nets, particularly in urban areas. The idea that cities should be healthy places to live shouldn’t be revolutionary, but it can feel that way.
Fortunately (or, perhaps, unfortunately) the pandemic validated Cityblock’s core approach and philosophy: A Brooklyn-based startup working to improve community health, foster health justice and repair trust, the company is shifting the incentive structure for taking care of low-income patients with complex healthcare needs.
Toyin Ajayi and her partners started the company in low-income neighborhoods in Brooklyn, and have since expanded into Connecticut, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C. A Stanford grad with an MPhil from the University of Cambridge and a medical degree from King’s College London School of Medicine, Ajayi previously served as chief medical officer of Commonwealth Care Alliance, a health plan for individuals dually-eligible for Medicare and Medicaid. While there, she wanted paramedics to deliver certain services in-home, rather than in the hospital, but was told this just wasn’t how things were done. So she teamed up with her co-founder Iyah Romm to launch a pilot community paramedicine program run out of the department. Emboldened by its success, they went to Alphabet’s incubator Sidewalk Labs, where they met cofounder Bay Gross and started the company that would become Cityblock.
Founded in 2017, the company contracts with insurers to take care of some of their most costly patients, provide virtual care, in-home attention and social support. The model prioritizes spending more time with patients rather than having to rush through appointments in order to log more visits. Cityblock pairs community outreach, local clinics and virtual care with a software core that helps surface medical and social-care issues before they spiral out of control and drive up costs. Some 80 percent of the company’s 75,000 members have at least three chronic conditions. Two-thirds are people of color, a group hit particularly hard by Covid-19.
“Improving community health starts with addressing all of the factors that impact people’s health,” she told TEDMED in 2018. “So we built a tech-enabled, innovative care model that directly meets the whole-person needs of our members.”
The idea seems to resonating: In March, Cityblock announced it raised a $192 million Series C extension led by Tiger Global Management. That is on top of the $160 million it had already raised in December, which at that point had valued the company at over $1 billion.