Toyin Ajayi is the co-founder and CEO of City Block Health, a healthcare startup focusing on providing services to communities with complex needs. She is a primary care doctor, a recognized leader in delivering value-based care for underprivileged populations, and an excellent example of black excellence.
Early Life and Schooling
Toyin grew up in Nairobi, Kenya, with her two younger sisters. The AIDS epidemic was starting to take root in the East African region during this time, and she felt her privilege. Being raised by financially stable parents, Toyin and her siblings did not have to worry about having a good education, food, or access to good health. However, from an early age, her parents taught her that economic privileges came with the responsibility to do something worthwhile for the less fortunate.
As young as she was, Toyin could recognize and understand the challenges AIDS had brought to many people. And it dawned on her that if it was not for her family’s financial security, she could face similar difficulties as those who could not access medicine for this unfamiliar and terrifying illness. She said in an interview, “they looked like me.” Dr. Ajiya’s empathy for the poor and suffering developed into a wish to serve those living amongst us with difficulties.
It drove her to earn an undergraduate degree from Stanford University. It propelled her to attend the University of Cambridge for her MPhil and King’s College London School of Medicine for her medical degree, attaining a Distinction in Clinical Practice. What’s more, it led her to become a black founder of a health startup. Indeed, Toyin’s upbringing contributed to her deep passion for caring for the poor in the community and those who do not have the financial strength to take care of their health. As a board-certified Family Physician, Toyin still practices medicine focusing on patients with complex, chronic, and end-of-life needs.
Dr. Toyin started her career in 2012 at Boston University as a Family Medicine Hospitalist and Clinical Instructor at the School of Public Health. At Boston Medical Centre, she worked with the Department of Family Medicine, receiving the Faculty Teaching Award for the Department.
She joined the Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA) in 2013, serving as the Hospital’s Medical Director and Director of Transitions of Care. She later began serving as the CCA’s Chief Medical Officer in 2015. CCA is a non-profit organization that helps improve healthcare, especially by spearheading public participation in issues concerning quality, affordability, and access to care. Its activities focus on low-income earners with complex chronic health issues and physical and mental disabilities. Toyin was in charge of clinical operations, championed care delivery innovations, and managed care teams in various fields serving over 20,000 recipients across the State. Besides being a co-founder and CEO at CityBlock today, she is also a Board Member at the City University of New York.
Dr. Ajayi’s early career and experience working with low-income communities contributed to her becoming a black founder focused on serving minorities. In an interview, she explained that the problems in the healthcare system led to a lot of suffering for patients in low-income areas. For this reason, she felt it was time to bring something impactful to the communities. She says,
“do I believe that healthcare is a right that should be available to all people, irrespective of their ability to pay, and then it should be distributed equitably? Yes. 100%. And there are a lot of ways of achieving that.”
In her career, Dr. Ajayi cares for patients and witnesses how those with several chronic problems fail to follow up on their medication due to various social issues. As a result, most of these patients end up relying on emergency rooms for crises such as acute psychiatric care or running out of insulin for not getting the kind of care that would have kept them at home. According to Toyin, interacting with patients has given her a deeper understanding of their problems and helped her develop ideas of the best results that can be attained. This way, she gains the trust of those her company serves. In addition, she began to understand how people with health needs could develop chronic trauma. Undeniably, Ajayi brings black excellence to the healthcare profession, setting an excellent example for others.
In 2017, Dr. Ajayi launched City Block heath with her co-founders, Bay Gross and Iyah Romm. Toyin started as the president of CityBlock before she was appointed the CEO in March 2022. Her desire to serve and offer human-centered healthcare in lower-income and marginalized communities led her to start the company. Cityblock is a tech-based company in Brooklyn, New York that focuses on helping financially disadvantaged individuals who lack essential items such as food, a secure home, and social support.
CityBlock Health got its first funding of $ 20 million in 2018 from various investors, including Thrive Capital and Maverick ventures. The amount of funding and number of investors have increased since then. The privately owned company has raised $891.3M so far, and its value had reached the $6 billion mark by May 2022. Some investors include Tiger Global, Wellington Management, General Catalyst, and Goldman Sachs Asset Management, making part of the 34 investors that CityBlock has.
The company has over 70,000 members in different markets, including New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. Cityblock Health aims to ensure its services reach 10 million people in 10 years. As a black founder and female entrepreneur, Dr. Ajayi has played a commendable role in steering the company from startup to over $ 6 billion in valuation. Moreover, given the company’s current performance, she hopes to achieve more with her team in the coming years. In 2021, City bank reported a three times year-over-year increase in revenues.
CityBlock helps people by bringing compassionate care closer to communities, making them feel that their time, feelings, and stories matter. According to Dr. Ajayi, tackling systematic issues in healthcare is morally necessary, but working with sustainable business models that provide healthcare differently is also essential. Before launching into a new market, Cityblock assesses the best place its presence will make a difference. For instance, being close to public transportation or grocery stores makes them more accessible to members.
Cityblock positioning also allows it to visit people in their homes and cater to their needs in their environment. This means that Cityblock has to work with various community-based organizations, including housing agencies, shelters, hospitals, specialty providers, organizations, and communities, creating a seamless experience for their clients. In addition, Cityblock supports community-based organizations in its ecosystem in areas they need help, including assisting with tasks such as packing and delivering groceries. Establishing solid relationships with other organizations helps Cityblock Health offer personalized, accessible, and high-value health services to Medicaid and lower-income Medicare beneficiaries.
Cityblock has heavily invested in technology that plays a significant role in providing its services. The technology includes Common, a care delivery platform and virtual-first service that uses a mobile app, video, and SMS. Using tech and data science makes it easy to offer personalized care. It’s easy to prioritize who needs care first within the community based on members’ diverse needs. Besides, patients do not have to tell their stories repeatedly, unlike in the traditional healthcare system. Eliminating repeated storytelling with Cityblock’s data science ensures that patients are no longer exposed to abrasion, friction, or trauma that can negatively affect a therapeutic relationship. Hence, contributing to positive health outcomes.
Leadership and Awards
Though Dr. Ajayi leads a for-profit company, her role significantly improves poor communities and promotes black excellence. She has become a leader in introducing value-based healthcare that ensures that providers and companies are paid based on results. It is a popular concept in emerging health tech business models as it offers maximum benefits to its members at relatively lower costs.
Through Cityblock Health, Ajayi has helped tackle inequalities in healthcare systems in marginalized communities, and this helps them overcome their short-term and long-term financial problems. By building sustainable business models, Toyin aims to address the root causes of health problems for underserved urban populations. She and her co-founders identified the gap and helped to implement a unique tech-based approach. Dr. Ajayi’s company helps to build trust and engage a heterogenous community with complex needs, resulting in positive outcomes for members and partners.
The reduction in the cost of healthcare means that the government can spend that money to tackle other issues that are not health-related. For instance, the company offers preventive care for populations at risk that gets health insurance from the government, and results are evident. Cityblock noted a decline in emergency room visits by 15% and a 20% decline in in-patient stays in hospitals among its first-generation members.
Therefore, the federal government benefits from Cityblock Health’s entry into the health sector as it helps to reduce its spending. The positive effects can also be felt nationwide. For instance, the national healthcare spending is over $4 trillion annually, translating to about one-fifth of GDP by 2020. Medicare and Medicaid take the largest share, 36%. CityBlocks Health efforts are capable of reducing the national healthcare budget, saving the government more money to develop poor communities.
Dr. Ajayi is inspiring because of her remarkable empathy toward those in need. Her authenticity and humanity drove her to start and run a company that takes a broader view of patient care that recognizes the importance of social determinants of health.
Toyin Ajayi is part of our Black Founders50 Series. Download the complete 2023 BBVA Founders50 list here.