Forge Health secures $11M as it aims to be 'one-stop shop' for mental health and substance abuse care

Forge Health, a company that integrates digital health services and in-person care for behavioral health and substance abuse care, picked up $11 million in new financing to build out its tech capabilities and expand its value-based partnerships.

The White Plains, New York-based company operates clinics in New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and New Hampshire that provide both in-person and digital mental health and substance use treatment. Forge Health plans to use the funding to expand its brick-and-mortar clinics in both existing and new markets, Eric Frieman, co-founder and CEO of Forge Health, told Fierce Healthcare.

"We are drowning in demand so we need to accelerate our growth and our expansion rapidly," he said.

Forge Health is in network with more than 30 commercial and government health plans, and, through new and expanded population health partnerships with leading health plans and health systems, the company now manages more than 270,000 members under its value-based partnership model.

Forge Health, previously known as Strive Health, also provides veteran and first responder services, called Forge VFR, to get behavioral health care to active-duty service members, veterans, first responders and their families. The company inked a partnership with the Department of Veterans Affairs to enhance veterans' access to substance abuse and mental health services to reduce suicide. 

"Having behavioral health services for military members, veterans and first responders was something that was critical for us as we began the company," said Frieman, whose brother served in the military and was deployed to Iraq.

The current behavioral health delivery system is "broken," Frieman said, as care is extremely fragmented, emphasizes point solutions and fails to properly address the whole person. 

"Our mission is to address that significant unmet need for effective, affordable and accessible addiction and mental health treatment. We want to provide effective 'one-stop-shop' care to individuals, families and communities in need, especially those with moderate to severe conditions," he said.

The Forge care model utilizes multidisciplinary clinical teams, data analytics and streamlined care delivery to provide individualized, whole-person care that addresses mental health and substance use issues concurrently while also driving improved health outcomes, according to company executives.

The company ties its value-based care model to patients’ physical health, as well, according to executives.

"If you have diabetes, you can go to your doctor as many times as you want, but if you're depressed, you likely won't be adhering to your treatment plan or your medication regimen. That's a key component of why we're different and why we're unique in the industry: because our treatment plan doesn't just focus on behavioral healthcare needs. If someone has diabetes, as part of their behavioral health treatment plan, they must adhere to their treatment plan with their doctor who is treating them for diabetes, and if they don't, we believe that indicates a need for a clinical intervention from the behavioral health care side," Frieman said.

He added, "Many times it's about the need to clarify what's important to patients and to do motivational enhancement therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy to help them understand that in order to take care of their physical health, they need to take care of their mental health, and vice versa."

Frieman says Forge Health's model can increase access, lower costs and improve care quality. In a few weeks, the company plans to unveil clinical research showing improved medical utilization and health outcomes for its patients a full 12 months after treatment for mental health and substance use.

The company is growing rapidly and reported more than 2,000% revenue growth between 2017 and 2020. 

Forge Health also has seen fast growth in its virtual care offerings thanks in large part to the shift to digital during the COVID-19 pandemic. The company had to fast-forward the rollout of its telehealth services to March 2020 rather than later that summer.

"We went from 100% in person to 100% digital in a week. We saw that providers loved it and patients loved it and the clinical outcomes were almost identical," Frieman said.
HC9 Venture led the company's growth funding round. 

"The HC9 team’s extensive experience and success in building transformative companies and driving healthcare innovation make them the perfect partner as we accelerate the expansion of our proven care model, and we’re confident that this investment will solidify our position as the market leader as well as be the catalyst for new ground-breaking partnerships," Frieman said.

Mental health care continues to be a hot spot within digital health, with investor dollars flowing into the sector to support a new crop of startups.

Mental health startups raised $1 billion in just the first quarter of 2022 bolstered by employer-focused Lyra Health’s series F round ($235 million) and Omada Health’s series E ($192 million), according to Rock Health.

In 2021, mental health startups in the U.S. raked in $5.1 billion—$3.3 billion more than any other clinical indication in 2021 and nearly double 2020’s funding total of $2.7 billion, according to a Rock Health report.

More companies in the mental health services market helps open up access to care, Frieman said.

"We are in an industry where anywhere between 60% and 90% of patients don't get the help that they need. So, I welcome competition because we're all force multipliers and I like to see the innovation that's going on," he said.

But there are many companies coming into the market offering point solutions, he noted.

"At Forge, we are trying to drive innovation in behavioral health. I think we are the solution that we will ultimately get the industry going forward, but right now, we need as much help as we can get to address those who need help," he said.