Alphabet-backed Cityblock Health lands $54M to expand care for marginalized populations

Cityblock combines primary care, behavioral health and social services, whenever and wherever its members need them. (Cityblock Health)

As a healthcare provider focused on marginalized populations with complex needs, Cityblock Health is seeing the devastating impact of COVID-19 as it has laid bare existing health disparities.

With a new injection of cash, Cityblock Health is working to expand its care model to improve care for underserved populations.

The New York City-based startup landed a $54 million series B funding round led by Kinnevik AB, with participation from AIMS Imprint of Goldman Sachs Asset Management and Alphabet. Existing major investors Maverick Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, Town Hall Ventures, Thrive Capital, EmblemHealth, 8VC and Echo Health Ventures also joined the round.

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"This investment demonstrates conviction in the potential of integrated, value-based care to fundamentally transform health across the nation," company co-founders Toyin Ajayi and Iyah Romm wrote in a Medium blog post Wednesday.

Cityblock combines primary care, behavioral health and chronic disease management services that address social determinants like transportation, housing and access to healthy food.

The funding will help Cityblock Health further develop its technology capabilities, including its Commons platform that lets members of the care team communicate and monitor a patient's progress and its virtual-first service modalities, Ajayi and Romm wrote.

The company also is looking to expand to serve new communities.

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Cityblock was born in 2017 as a groundbreaking care model designed to meet the complex health and social needs of underserved communities.

Unlike a traditional doctor’s office, the model prioritizes caring for its members when and where it’s convenient for them in the community, outside of hospitals and doctors’ offices whenever reasonable and in their homes, reviving home visiting in impoverished neighborhoods.

In the blog post, Ajayi and Romm noted that the COVID-19 pandemic intersects with the focus on undoing systemic racism and the shift to value-based care, and these issues will shape the future of healthcare.

"Though we needed no reminder, this pandemic continues to show us all that the people who will always suffer the most are communities of color, folks with disabilities, those who are LGBTQIA+, and people with limited economic means," the co-founders wrote.

The national dialogue about race has highlighted the importance of anti-Black racism, which strikes at the heart of the populations Cityblock serves, the company said.

Cityblock will continue to be committed to building an anti-racist company, Ajayi and Romm said, noting the company's work to address healthcare disparities.

The COVID-19 pandemic also has highlighted the urgent need to shift to value-based care. The impact of the health crisis on healthcare provided by traditional fee-for-service practices has been devastating, the company said.

Some estimates suggest that upward of 60,000 medical practices may close due to COVID-19.

"Traditional primary care is ill-equipped to meet the needs of vulnerable communities during this global pandemic," Ajayi and Romm wrote.

In some of the hardest-hit communities in New York City, Cityblock Health more than doubled its weekly member encounters, aided by new analytics models to help care teams identify those at highest risk of COVID-19.

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While other practices have struggled to keep their doors open, the startup built new care models to enhance its in-home urgent care capabilities, launched a pregnancy care program and grew its membership, according to the company.

Cityblock also ramped up its virtual care capabilities and has seen a 2,000% surge in telehealth visits between March 20 and June 30. The company expects more than half of provider visits will be via video.

This demonstrates that it is possible to engage lower-income populations with telehealth modalities as an effective alternative to in-person care, the co-founders wrote.

"While there is so much unknown that lies ahead of us as a society, what we do know is that we can and we should choose a better way forward—one that breaks disparities down at their roots, that builds towards a just and equal society, and that improves the health of all of our communities," Ajayi and Romm wrote.

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