Telehealth Unicorn Ro Working to Vaccinate Homebound Seniors

Alonzo Osche

Several states have made progress vaccinating residents who are 65 and older against the COVID-19 virus, but reaching homebound seniors remains a challenge. That challenge is partly because many home health and home care agencies — the traditional eyes and ears of the home — do not have access to […]

Several states have made progress vaccinating residents who are 65 and older against the COVID-19 virus, but reaching homebound seniors remains a challenge.

That challenge is partly because many home health and home care agencies — the traditional eyes and ears of the home — do not have access to vaccines themselves. Additionally, vaccinating homebound seniors is difficult because that population is largely invisible, tucked away from brick-and-mortar hospitals and doctors’ offices.

New York-based Ro — the health care technology company that reached unicorn territory over the summer — is among the innovative organizations now helping to vaccinate homebound older adults. Ro announced Wednesday it is teaming up with the New York State Department of Health to administer in-home vaccinations.

“You have Americans today who are elderly, disabled and homebound, who are facing serious challenges when it comes to accessing vaccinations,” Saman Rahmanian, co-founder and chief product officer of Ro, told Home Health Care News. “In New York alone, you have 2.1 million folks who are over 65 and who live with chronic conditions for whom it’s too difficult, too unsafe and sometimes even impossible to travel to a vaccination site.”

Ro’s “COVID-19 Vaccine Drive” with the New York State Department of Health is an entirely pro bono initiative. So far, it’s been able to finance the effort with no-strings-attached monetary support from Firstmark, General Catalyst, TQ Ventures and several other patrons.

“We’ve reached out to private businesses, asking them to help donate and sponsor these vaccine drives,” Rahmanian said. “And we’ve seen a tremendous amount of support and growth.”

Homebound seniors can sign up for an in-home vaccination from Ro online. After they schedule an appointment, Ro sends a licensed and vaccinated health care worker into the home to deliver the vaccine.

On its end, the department of health is supplying Ro’s workers with the Moderna vaccine.

“Just last week, we’ve vaccinated somebody who’s 107 years old, who hasn’t been out of the house in two years,” Rahmanian said. “We’ve vaccinated someone who is 92 years old. She was thrilled to get the vaccine at home because that means she’s able to attend her granddaughter’s wedding later this year.”

The COVID-19 Vaccine Drive is currently only active in Yonkers, but Ro has ambitions to expand the initiative to other markets if all continues to go well.

Operationally, it’s been able to put the effort together thanks to its recent acquisition of in-home care platform Workpath.

“At Ro, scale is in the DNA of our company,” said Rahmanian, noting that Ro has facilitated more than 6 million digital health care visits for patients across the U.S. “Workpath has done hundreds of thousands of in-home visits, so this is all built with scale in mind.”

As part of the vaccination program, recipients will also have access to free, continued support through Ro’s nurse hotline for any unforeseen issues that pop up.

As for the health care workers going into the homes of seniors, the technology company is arranging free transportation, with Uber donating rides to help cover a portion of costs.

Since launching in 2017, Ro has raised more than $376.1 million in total funding. Over that time, it has transformed from a company mostly focused on men’s sexual wellness into a vertically integrated primary care platform that leverages everything from diagnosis to ongoing care.

While its vaccine initiative in New York is focused on an immediate need, Ro has big plans to continue investing around the home and in the senior care space, Rahmanian explained.

“We’ve seen the importance of in-home care,” Rahmanian said. “We know the in-home care market is growing. And that’s because, I think, the industry is now realizing the importance of meeting patients where they are.”

Other states and cities are similarly getting creative to vaccinate homebound seniors.

In Texas, for example, the city of Corpus Christi formed a partnership between the city’s fire department and a local Meals on Wheels branch to vaccinate homebound residents. When they’re able, plenty of home health agencies are delivering vaccines in the home, too.

As of Feb. 26, 22 states and the District of Columbia had vaccinated at least one-third of their residents who are 65 and older against COVID-19, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation analysis.

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