Amae Health picks up $15M to scale in-person clinics providing care for severe mental illness

Amae Health launched in January 2022 to improve care for individuals with severe mental illness through a community-based, integrated approach.

The startup, which opened its first outpatient clinic in Los Angeles 18 months ago, closed a $15 million series A round to fuel its growth as it plans to open new clinics in four markets over the next 12 months.

Amae Health will open clinics in North Carolina, Ohio, Houston, Texas and New York City, Amae Health co-founder and CEO Stas Sokolin said in an exclusive interview about the funding round. The company will work with Medicaid plans in those four new markets.

"We're focused on doing one thing particularly well, which is excellent delivery of SMI care," Sonia Garcia, Amae Health co-founder and chief product officer, said in an interview. "We're doing it with really thoughtful and intentional growth. So it's not scale at all costs. It's not winner-take-all but it is being considerate about where we have the most need, where we can generate the most impact and ensuring that we uphold safety, first and foremost, and then ultimately, really make a lasting change in these people's lives."

Quiet Capital led the round, which the company said was oversubscribed. Amir Dan Rubin’s venture firm
Healthier Capital also invested in Amae Health in this funding round, along with Bascuzki Group, and angel investor Mike Volpi, Index Ventures managing partner. Amae Health’s original seed investors all participated in the round, including Able Partners, Virtue VC, Bling Capital and 8VC. 

According to the National Institute of Health, there are an estimated 14.1 million adults aged 18 or older
in the United States with a severe mental illness, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Young adults aged 18-25 years had the highest prevalence of SMI (11.4%) with a 322% increase in annual deaths drug overdose and suicide.

Treatment and care services for severe mental illness can often be fragmented and difficult to access, with the emergency room often the default place where individuals seek care.

Sokolin and Garcia were motivated by their personal experiences to launch the startup. They had lost or seen their loved ones suffer from severe mental illness and were deeply frustrated by the lack of adequate care available.

Garcia lost her father to suicide when she was 16 years old and then became a caregiver for her brother, who suffers from schizoaffective and bipolar disorder.

"I had to navigate a broken behavioral healthcare system for many years to keep him alive and prevent us from going through that tragedy again," Garcia said.

That experience was "the fire, the motivation and the passion for a lot of what we do," Garcia said.

Garcia earned an engineering degree from Rice and Stanford and previously worked at family mental health startup Brightline as director of member experience.

Sokolin's family came to the United States in the late 1980s as refugees from Belarus. Both his father and sister had bipolar disorder. "Mental health was not a thing in the Soviet Union. My father was deeply affected; my sister a lot more. She probably spent about 10 years of her life either incarcerated, unhoused and in hospitals, due to her mental illness and substance use addiction, All of our families' time, resources and energy was spent to try to get her help and the system repeatedly failed over and over," he said.

While in a correction facility, Sokolin's sister was able to receive more coordinated, ongoing care for her severe mental illness.

"It was always stunning to me how prison can be the best place to get care for somebody with severe mental illness. We have to do better than that," he said, noting that his sister's life improved significantly after getting high-quality care.

Sokolin initially started his career in finance and investing and served as principal at the American Medical Association's investment arm Health2047. He also worked in philanthropy at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.

There is a lot of activity in the behavioral health market as startups focus on mild to moderate mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety, but there are not as many companies focused on treating severe mental illness, Sokolin noted.

Motivated by their personal experiences, Sokolin and Garcia wanted to bring a whole-person, integrated, psychiatry-led approach to SMI. Amae Health's model was inspired by the Department of Veterans Affairs’ mental health intensive case management program (MHICM).

Amae Health's chief medical officer, Scott Fears, M.D., a psychiatrist, spent over 10 years managing integrated care teams for patients with severe mental illness at Veterans Affairs. He also serves as a professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA.

Amae Health takes a data-driven approach and built an integrated care team consisting of psychiatrists, primary care providers, therapists, health coaches, peer supports and social workers. The company aims to tie physical care into serious mental illness treatment.

"There are a couple of things that we do that are very different. One is we treat members for life," Sokolin said. "Most individuals that have schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, suicidality, there is no long-term place to get care, but it's a chronic disease. That's always been a big missing piece, except for the VA."

He added, "We also have a big focus on physical health, as well as behavioral health. One doesn't work without the other. We're able to engage and get them healthier in a variety of ways. Just prescribing somebody medication is not going to solve their schizophrenia. But that, plus a lot of the other things that we do, is very different."

Amae Health offers community-based care, he noted, along with behavioral health and physical health services peer support will help individuals get jobs or go back to school.

"Our members come in, even when they have no appointments. We want them to come to us and view us as their behavioral health home, as opposed to going back to the ER or back to their hospital setting," Sokolin said.

Amae Health also puts a strong focus on service excellence and hospitality, Garcia noted, two features not often associated with mental health outpatient clinics.

"These people deserve a place where they feel that they can recover and gain hope over their condition, and be treated with dignity and respect for that condition. That is often not present in many of the ecosystems that we see today. So for us, it's about treating people with kindness, building trust, having intentionality at every touchpoint so that they have a meaningful experience and can get on a track to recovery," she said.

The company also will use the $15 million in fresh funding to invest in its data platform, Sokolin noted. "As we're collecting data and training on it and then we use it to help our clinicians to provide better care for our patients."

Garcia added, "Our psychiatry leadership is heavily involved in developing proprietary tools for that data platform, so that we can standardize our clinical care. That's going to be key to maintain and uphold quality, particularly as we continue to scale."

The startup says its approach to severe mental illness has resulted in better outcomes including a high percentage of patients avoiding re-hospitalization and substantial symptom improvement across severe mood disorders.

Amae Health significantly outperforms the general standard of care across several key metrics, including
drastic reduction of 30-day emergency room readmissions, and over 85% medication adherence compared
to an industry average of 53%. The company also boasts greater than 80% retention rate.

"A lot of society has given up on these individuals," Sokolin said. "You can have schizophrenia and you can be a successful individual. It's very much dependent upon what kind of care you're getting. I just wish that others in the healthcare community had more hope for individuals with SMI."

Company executives also say the company's approach to SMI treatment offers a cost-effective solution for
payers by focusing on value-based care contracts.

The company also is collaborating with other healthcare institutions, technology companies and research organizations to enhance its product offerings and extent its market reach. Amae Health has active contracts with Blue Shield of California, Aetna, Optum, Carelon, Alliance Health and others in late-stage negotiation, the company said.

"By being a long-term care provider, this allows us to build an infrastructure to be a research-grade organization and move the field of psychiatry forward. We are kicking off several research trials in the coming months," Sokolin said.

“Amae Health has developed a solution for SMI that improves patient outcomes and experience and
significantly reduces costs to payers and hospital systems," David Greenbaum, partner at Quiet Capital said in a statement. "Amae’s first clinic has shown incredible results and we’re excited for the potential to scale to hundreds of thousands of patients."