Rural health startup Homeward is partnering with Rite Aid to connect seniors with clinical services like wellness visits and screenings.
The collaboration will allow Rite Aid pharmacists to send Medicare-eligible customers to Homeward for care. Additionally, Homeward’s mobile care units will be available at some Rite Aid locations in rural Michigan, with the goal of expanding into additional markets.
Homeward, which launched earlier this year with a $20 million investment from General Catalyst, is focused on providing services through its traveling mobile units, in patients’ homes or virtually. It said it will begin in-network services for patients covered under Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans, including primary care and cardiology, starting in the third quarter this year.
“As we re-architect health and care for rural Americans, we must consider the specific needs of millions living in these communities and so-called healthcare deserts. In these areas, we can’t assume that ‘if you build it, they will come.’ Instead, we’re creating convenient opportunities for care within the daily lives and routines of rural Americans,” CEO Dr. Jennifer Schneider said in a statement.
“Rite Aid is a highly recognized and trusted pharmacy services company with rural locations that serve many thousands of people every day. Through our partnership, we’ll be able to connect individuals to our services as we improve access to critical, frontline services in these communities.”
WHY IT MATTERS
According to the CDC, rural Americans are more likely to die from heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, COPD and stroke compared with their counterparts in rural areas. Research published in JAMA last year found the mortality disparities between rural and large metropolitan areas grew significantly between 1999 and 2019.
Older rural residents were more likely to forgo medical care due to cost, which was even more prevalent for Black and Hispanic adults.
People living in rural areas also usually have to travel further to access healthcare. Meanwhile, 19 rural hospitals closed in 2020 alone, with 181 shutting down since 2005.
THE LARGER TREND
During a panel discussion at ViVE shortly after Homeward’s launch, Schneider, also a vet from chronic care management company Livongo, said the startup is focused on rural health because the current system for delivering healthcare was designed for urban areas, leaving rural communities in the lurch.
The startup also plans to cooperate with the existing local health system, referring patients back to outside providers when necessary.
“We think of ourselves as an extension of the current ecosystem, not as a competitor,” she said.