Black History, Today: Dr. Toyin Ajayi & Cityblock Health

This year, we are spending Black History Month learning about Black leaders in healthcare technology – but leaders of our present day, not the past.

History is, of course, oppressively present in the lives of Black Americans. For example, we see the impact of racial bias and white supremacy in how difficult it is for Black founders of startup companies to get funding. Last year, Crunchbase News noted that only 1% of venture capital funding went to startups with one or more Black founders. The Holloway Guide to Raising Venture Capital noted that even less funding goes to companies led by Black women.

Here at ScriptDrop, we believe that in order for American healthcare to meet the needs of the people, the startup environment needs to reflect all the diversity of our country. That’s why we’re celebrating Black-founded and Black-led healthcare technology startups this month (and in the months to come). Join us!

Meet Dr. Toyin Ajayi, co-founder and current CEO of Cityblock Health.

Cityblock Health is, at its simplest, a value-based healthcare provider for marginalized and underserved populations. But it’s also a tech-savvy startup that collaborates with insurance payors to provide free, compassionate care to the people who need it most. Cityblock Health is service-focused, member-centric, and works to build trust with their patients. Cityblock teams up with local doctors, mental health providers, social workers, and community-based organizations to give patients timely care and support, as well as 24/7 telemedicine and in-home urgent care.

As we’ve learned, addressing a patient’s social determinants of health is essential to their overall care and long-term health outcomes. But most providers aren’t able to help their patients with “non-healthcare” needs. That’s another reason Cityblock is remarkable: it can and will help patients with concerns that fall outside of typical healthcare, like childcare and food insecurity.

Cityblock was founded in 2017 in New York City but has since expanded to Connecticut, Indiana, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., and is working to expand further every year. It is on track to have a major impact on many communities: Cityblock is an outlier in the startup world with a valuation over $6 billion, and plans to serve 10 million people by 2030.

In Cityblock’s recent Equity in Action report, Dr. Ajayi said the motivation behind Cityblock was as follows:

to demonstrate that it is not only possible, but critical, to transform outcomes for marginalized populations by delivering dignified, respectful, and high-value care to communities that the system has left behind.

In 2021, Dr. Ajayi talked about her background with Shiv Gaglani for Raise the Line podcast. She was born in Kenya and grew up during the HIV-AIDS epidemic, which was a profound lesson in social determinants of health. Dr. Ajayi is pragmatic; her understanding of how policy shapes healthcare has motivated her to find systematic, structured ways to improve care. But she also is motivated by her heart.

As a resident at a community health center in Boston, Dr. Ajayi wanted to provide the very best care to her patients. But as time went on, she quickly saw how the American healthcare system was failing not only the community, but also doctors like herself. Providers were expected to see patients in incredibly short increments. There simply wasn’t time to really understand a patient or build the trust that would allow patients to be completely honest about their needs. Dr. Ajayi saw that her work was at odds with the values that led her to practice medicine in the first place.

But while serving as Chief Medical Officer for Commonwealth Care Alliance, Dr. Ajayi began to think about how the value-based care model could scale to help patients nationwide. Before long, Dr. Ajayi and fellow founder Iyah Romm had started Cityblock Health, and they’ve only grown from there.

Their system works. Cityblock uses data to find insured patients whose healthcare needs are unmet, reaches out to them, and gets them onboard with their care. Community health partners and outreach specialists are key to creating this connection and developing a relationship with patients. They understand that many people have not been treated well by healthcare providers in the past and may be afraid to be vulnerable with a doctor. Trust is essential.

But once patients are on board, their health outlook improves substantially. Cityblock’s preventative, practical, holistic care for patients facing negative SDOHs is keeping people out of the hospital. For example, in their 2023 Equity in Action report, Cityblock saw a 15% reduction in emergency department visits in Washington, D.C. after launching an Advanced Behavioral Health program. Patients cared for by the Mobile Integrated Care team saw 20% fewer emergency department visits. Not only is this better for the patient and their community, but it also drives down healthcare spend overall.

In short, we’re inspired and refreshed by the success of Cityblock Health and Dr. Toyin Ajayi’s story. It’s amazing to see a healthcare startup that is focused on benefiting communities and improving American healthcare. It’s equally wonderful to see a healthcare provider who has skillfully combined her big-picture view of our broken system and her genuine care for patients into a solution. We look forward to Cityblock’s continued growth.