On August 12, the Nashville Health Care Council hosted a discussion Travis Messina, founder and CEO of Contessa. This virtual event was the latest installment of the Council’s “Health Care Brass Tacks” series, which invites Council board members and C-suite health care leaders to discuss their perspectives on the coronavirus pandemic and its overall impact on the health care industry.
Contessa is a model that provides all the essential elements of inpatient hospital care in the comfort of patients’ homes. Founded in 2015, Contessa’s turnkey solution provides upfront savings to health plans, enables health systems to reinvent their care delivery model and helps physicians deliver a better experience for patients.
Pioneering At-Home Care
In recent years, many companies have shifted to provide goods and services in the home. Everything from entertainment and fitness to groceries and corporate meetings are now delivered at home thanks to technology. However, when Messina conceived of his idea for rendering hospital services in the home in 2013, it was a unique concept.
“Delivering acute, emergent care in the home is complex. Though there was clinical literature to show its benefits, even I didn’t know if it was going to work,” said Messina. “It took about a year and a half after launching in 2015 with Marshfield Clinic to get 300 patients. That gave us enough data for New England Journal of Medicine Catalyst to do a study on our model. The NEJM Catalyst results were outstanding – 90% patient satisfaction, 35% reduction in length of stay, 44% reduction in readmission rates.”
Also contributing to the company’s success was Messina’s impressive background in health care administration and investment, along with his enviable network of industry leaders eager to support his new venture. Messina previously served as chief investment officer of Martin Ventures, a health care focused venture fund, and as vice president of development for Vanguard Health Systems.
Solutions in a Pandemic
COVID-19 brought Contessa some of the same challenges seen by the rest of the health care system. Approximately eighty percent of Contessa’s patients come from emergency department referrals. But when standard ED patients were replaced by extremely sick COVID patients, operations briefly stalled.
“After the first month or so, we quickly realized that our model would work well in caring for COVID patients in the home. We made necessary adjustments and business just took off, freeing up beds in hospitals and allowing patients to be at home with their families,” said Messina.
Demand for Contessa’s services grew rapidly, leading to an important change from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to reimburse for the model when it would historically not cover these services for Medicare beneficiaries.
When you’re starting a new company, your resources are finite. Seventy-five percent of startups don’t make it past the first year. So, Messina executed a concentrated approach to building his company.
“We were laser-focused on creating the most value in the system. We avoided getting distracted by ‘shiny new toys’ that often plague new businesses. And we were very strategic in who we chose to partner with,” he said. “Our early partners understood who we were and fought for us.”
Contessa partners with health systems in joint venture relationships. Currently, the company operates in seven states.
“Our priority is delivering high quality outcomes, and we only take on new partners where we think we can succeed. That means turning down some impressive propositions, just because we don’t think it’s a good fit,” said Messina. “Saying ‘no’ can be hard, but we have to be thoughtful and strategic about our growth to stay true to our mission.”
From Panelists to Partners
In 2015, Messina met Paul Kusserow, Chairman and CEO of Amedisys, when they were on a Nashville Health Care Council panel together. In the years that followed, the pair stayed in contact, sharing knowledge and ideas about the future of home health. This ultimately led to Amedisys purchasing Contessa in August of 2021. Contessa Health now operates as a stand-alone division within Amedisys.
“Amedisys is the leading home care company in the nation, and they know how to render high-quality care in the home on a national scale. I’m excited to partner with them because we are now able to tap into that infrastructure and expertise as we expand our partnerships,” said Messina. “It’s not just an investment of capital – they are investing in our technology, people and partnerships so we can expand and help more people.”