“Despite the billions of dollars that have been invested in mental health over the last three or four years, we’ve seen very little innovation in frankly one of the biggest and most pressing needs we have: senior mental health,” said Chris Engskov, co-founder and CEO director of Ripple Care.
Engskov wants to change that with his startup, created 11 months ago. He said there is a critical shortage of professionals with licenses and training to provide care for seniors’ mental and behavioral health challenges — such as Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias, anxiety and depression. For Engskov, the “very small number” of clinicians who are capable in the geriatric psychology space means the system is broken.
The Seattle-based company got its name because it seeks to cause “a big wave that will create a much bigger wave of people in the country moving into space,” Engskov said. Investors clearly see that goal as a worthy endeavor — last week, Rippl closed a $32 million seed funding round led by ARCH Venture Partners and General catalyst. GV, F-Prime Capital and Mass General Brigham Ventures also participated in the round.
Engskov began working in the White House under President Bill Clinton’s administration
, and he later spent 16 years in executive leadership positions at Starbucks. In 2019, he became the president of Aegis LivingWashington-based long-term care provider, and he held this role until Rippl was founded.
“What I learned in two and a half years on the front lines of a long-term care company was that we have a lot of growing to do – I thought that surely some of my user skills could be useful here,” Engskov said. “There were a few things I saw that could have been done much better, but one of the things I was most shocked by was how many times residents would be sent to the emergency room with behavioral symptoms related to dementia despite the fact , that we had a large clinical staff on site.’
Access to specialized, long-term mental and behavioral health care for older adults is extremely scarce, to the point where it doesn’t exist at all in many parts of the country, according to Engskov. The main reasons for this problem may be the fact that the fee-for-service model does not pay for holistic care, and primary care doctors often ignore the signs of dementia because they are easily misunderstood and the disease cannot be cured, he said.
Rippl works to provide specialized behavioral care for seniors that focuses on four core areas – quality, access, convenience and equity, Engskov said. The startup has not yet begun providing care, but is working to build its network of caregivers with hopes of launching in the next few months in Seattle, he added.
The model of care involves a nurse practitioner and a licensed social worker who will care for patients in their homes. Most of that care will be virtual, but Rippl also has an on-the-ground team that can go to patients’ homes. Patients will enjoy 24/7 access to care online, by phone or in their homes, according to Engskov.
“We’re starting out as fee-for-service as we build our first network, but our ambition is certainly to build a path to value-based care,” he said. “Because we are confident that this is the only way to really deliver care in a holistic way that meets the goals of better access, higher quality and much better equity.” We look forward to working for Medicare Advantage plans, accountable care organizations and other risk bearers.”
While the mental health startup market is certainly crowded with the likes of Space for conversations, Lira Health, Health with obstacles and dozens of others, Engskov said he doesn’t necessarily see those companies as competitors because they don’t focus on geriatric mental health care.
“I think our competitor is the status quo,” he said. “The suite of products we have for crisis management, care navigation coordination and therapy is something no one else is doing.”
Roger Kitterman, managing director of Mass General Brigham Ventures, agreed, saying in an email that “geriatric psychiatry is a subspecialty that is severely underserved in the current behavioral health market that could greatly benefit from targeted investment.”
Photo: Ripple Care