Having raised $100 million since 2021, EmpowerMe Wellness marked another milestone on Tuesday, cutting the ribbon on a diagnostics laboratory that can expedite blood test results for senior living residents within 24 to 48 hours.
To create the lab, EmpowerMe transformed a CrossFit studio adjacent to its corporate headquarters near St. Louis, in Brentwood, Missouri. The lab has the capacity to process 2 million samples and conduct 5.5 million tests annually, and will exclusively serve EmpowerMe’s client base of senior living providers. Those clients represent more than 30,000 residents across 26 states, with that number set to reach 30 states this year.
“It’s humbling and validating that we’ve had the response we’ve had from the senior housing industry,” EmpowerMe Wellness Founder and CEO Josh Stevens told Senior Housing News. “To see our strategy now in action, and the impact it has on the residents that we serve and the operators that we work with is so, so exciting.”
The EmpowerMe strategy hinges on providing integrated care within senior living communities, through teams delivering therapy, pharmacy, nurse practitioner-led services, and diagnostics.
“We’re really proud to be the first senior living-focused laboratory as a part of an integrated health care company,” Stevens said at Tuesday’s event.
Addressing a senior living pain point
Stevens started EmpowerMe Wellness in 2017, drawing on his operational background, including five-and-a-half years as president of Cedarhurst Senior Living.
“Our experience as a senior housing operator was that you would have a lab or mobile phlebotomist stop by around once a week to collect samples; and anything you needed in the interim, most of the time, you sent a resident to the hospital or to a lab,” he told SHN.
EmpowerMe has cross-trained all its therapists as phlebotomist and diagnostics managers, meaning that residents of senior living communities working with EmpowerMe can have a sample collected any day of the week.
The rapid turnaround on these samples will be facilitated by the new laboratory, which has already been fully operational and running smoothly for about two weeks, Lab Director Theresa Catalano told SHN.
The lab is the first in the region to utilize a chemistry and immunoassay analyzer called Atellica Solution, from Siemens Healthineers, and is fully staffed with medical technologists, Catalano said.
In the coming years, EmpowerMe Wellness plans to employ upward of 500 corporate team members in St. Louis County, according to Stevens.
Elevating senior living, enabling value-based care
Routine blood testing with fast turnaround on results holds the potential to improve resident health and wellbeing by more rapidly catching and treating illnesses and other health conditions, while helping control spending by reducing hospital trips and inpatient stays.
Stevens particularly emphasized the “pioneering” practice that EmpowerMe will pursue, of doing panels to create normative baseline data for residents upon move-in.
“Without baseline, it’s very difficult to evaluate improvement in outcomes,” he said.
Data showcasing the ability of senior living providers to improve resident wellbeing, or manage resident wellness effectively over time, also will be critical for payers as value-based care continues to expand, Stevens noted — stressing that providers must be able to get their fair share of financial upside in such arrangements.
“We’re not going to engage in a value-based strategy that doesn’t provide our operators the chance to participate — we’re committed to our operators,” he said.
And Stevens is also focused on harnessing the lab to reduce the incidence and severity of the most common diagnoses in senior living, such as urinary tract infections and even toenail fungus. An EmpowerMe study found that 60% of senior living residents have an undiagnosed toenail fungal infection.
“The implicit message is that you’re a senior now, that isn’t something that is really going to impair your ability to function, and just don’t worry about that,” Stevens said. “We think it’s a dignity issue, and we are going to tackle that issue for residents.”
EmpowerMe Wellness is not the only startup that is bringing more advanced and integrated care services into senior living communities, but it is especially well-funded, with some high-profile partners.
Mayo Clinic will provide some additional laboratory capabilities, for example. Investors include Silicon Valley luminary Jim McKelvey, co-founder of digital payments company square. McKelvey joined primary investor Hermann Companies, a St. Louis-based firm.
And Missouri Governor Mike Parson was in attendance at Tuesday’s ribbon cutting, where in his comments he drew attention to Stevens’ operational background.
“I think what better background to start EmpowerMe than being on the frontlines, who knew what it was like every day to deal with people and their needs,” he said. “And then you start to expand your education and, in Josh’s case, really builds something very special and unique for this part of the state. I think that’s what America is all about.”