Inside Ford’s Accelerated Push into the Skilled Nursing Transportation Market

In just two years, Ford Motor Company’s (NYSE: F) medical transportation business has gone from an idea to a fleet of 60 vehicles serving clients in two states, and Detroit has its sights set on a wider presence in the post-acute and long-term health space in the years to come.

Founded in March 2017 by Ford executive Minyang “M.J.” Jiang, GoRide Health currently provides non-emergency transportation services to skilled nursing facilities and health systems in Michigan and Ohio, pitching its offerings as a consumer-friendly upgrade over more traditional ambulance and paratransit rides.

Operating under the automaker’s Ford Smart Mobility arm, GoRide uses late-model Ford Transit and Ford Transit Connect vans — piloted by trained, HIPAA-compliant drivers — to transport seniors to doctor’s appointments and other medical procedures. The company now provides its services to customers such as the Dearborn, Mich.-based Beaumont Health network of hospitals, nursing homes, and other sites of care, as well as the Detroit Medical Center system and the Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority in Ohio.

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A GoRide van, seen here in 2018. / Courtesy Ford Motor Company

SNN spoke with Jiang, now GoRide’s CEO, earlier this month to learn more about the company’s growth from an internal experiment at Ford to its own separate entity, and what the future of SNF transportation might look like in an aging America.

Walk me through the founding of the program and the company.

The program was founded in March of 2017. There was a lot of transformation at the company then, thinking through the kind of mobility projects and pilots and businesses that we were going to undertake to see where Ford can be really a value-add, and competitive.

One of the things we recognized was the aging demographic that’s coming to this country, as well as health care, and how so many older adults have transportation issues getting to the doctor — particularly those who have more complex needs than just being picked up curbside: people who have difficulty moving about, or who have crutches, or a walker, or a power wheelchair, those who are suffering from dementia or chronic pain, or have behavioral or other issues.

As we thought about what Ford Motor Company, as an automotive company, could do to solve the mobility problem, one of the things we discovered was in the past, automotive was traditionally serving people who are buying new vehicles, people who can drive. And in order for [the] Mobility [division] to be inclusive and to expand what the business can go after, it really should include those that we have been traditionally unable to serve.

That’s how this started at the professional level. At the personal level, I founded the business because of my own experience with my grandfather when he was aging, as well as around some of the other older adults in my family — seeing how isolation changes them, and really prevented them from living the full life that they wanted, and how they needed more care than what some of the services are able to offer today.

So it was founded under the Ford umbrella?

In the beginning, it wasn’t a separate company — that’s a whole other story. I literally stood in front of the entire leadership team at that time and pitched, and people kind of looked at me like, “We don’t really have a process for this. This is really new, but the idea sounds interesting. It sounds like it has a business case. It’s financially interesting, and it also solves a great mobility problem. And so why don’t you take a little bit of money, like a real company would with some seed funding — I got half a million dollars — and go find people to help you on this project?”

We kind of begged, borrowed, and stole some people to work on the team, and I just coordinated with my peers and a couple of managers, to say: “We need three months to start really making progress.” We started this in April, and by August, we had five vehicles on the ground, serving five skilled nursing facilities in Dearborn.

So it was definitely your very typical startup story in the sense that it was scrappy — people worked out of a conference room, pulled everything together, spending a ton of time with customers doing everything manually on Day 1. By the end of 2017, we had proven out enough, and also gotten enough customer feedback, that it became formalized as a new business within Smart Mobility, and by the end of 2018, it is now a separate LLC.

What are your expansion plans for 2019 and beyond?

We’re definitely planning for launches in multiple states and multiple cities. But we spent all of 2018 really very homegrown, and part of it is because we were still iterating the business model — and we still are, by the way.

We’re a very hybrid kind of startup within a big company. We don’t have any of the typical stigmas associated with startups. We know we’re new and trying to learn, but we have a product that people want. We spent a lot of time focusing on the customer experience, being in the field almost every day. My cell phone number was connected to my customers, so if they had complaints, they called me.

We expanded to Ohio in the beginning of this year. We’re now in two cities in Ohio, and we’ll be launching in two more cities in Ohio in the next few months. We’ll be expanding to Florida and North Carolina by the end of the year. And as we’re expanding to other states, we’re also continuing to saturate the markets where we’ve already launched.

Next year, potentially our map looks like Louisiana, Texas, California, continuing to grow inNorth Carolina and Florida — and thinking about Kentucky.

As we partner and work with larger customers, their footprint and demand can really help shape where we’re going to go. Our plan today is based on a customer that we’re already working with, but as we continue to engage more with different kind of players and large players, we might be adding markets in the next couple years, or we might be shifting where we’re going.

What’s the breakdown of the customer base in terms of facility types?

There’s still definitely a lot of skilled nursing facilities, but we’re also starting to address the entire continuum of care. Sometimes there’s rehab facilities within the skilled nursing facilities, or they’re part of a larger complex where you’re dealing with independent living and assisted living.

So we’re starting to have more and more of those chains of nursing facilities that are working with us. We really enjoy them — we have some of the best relationships with them because they’re smaller, so we can talk to them every day, and they give us a lot of great feedback on our technology and our service.

We’re also primarily now working with hospital systems and hospitals with multi-state footprints, but also multiple campuses within a city. We also have relationships with national payers, so we’re working with directly health plans in some cases.

How do you market your services to customers? What’s your pitch?

There’s a couple of things we emphasize, and it depends on the customer, too. We serve multiple segments, and they care about different things. For example, with the skilled nursing facilities, our pitch is really helping to extend the care that they give to their patients.

The people that we work with are often very vulnerable, having recently been discharged from the hospital and are continuing on their wellness journey. They need assistance, and so our drivers actually go into the facilities, they work with the nurses in helping to get the patent ready.

You run into circumstances like: Someone who’s diabetic may need to finish their lunch. We really understand what’s going on the ground. It’s a very different world than someone saying: I’ve ordered a vehicle from an app, and they’re outside, and if you don’t show up within a couple minutes, they’re leaving.

I once went on a ride-along with a driver, and we were at a skilled nursing facility whose patient was being discharged to go home, and he was packing five bags. And I spent a long time sitting with him, because he was making sure he took everything with him. And he had an oxygen tank, so we brought the tank with him, and then we had to deliver the tank back.

It’s a very human journey. Once you get into it, we do deliver a very high level of assistance and a very high level of care. That’s where we differentiate. Speaking with our skilled nursing facilities, it’s more about that customer experience.

We are very competitive compared to the services that they’re used to, and so there is a cost-saving component there. It’s kind of the best of both worlds, where they’re not relying on other companies who maybe are using ambulances or they’re not there on time, and so the ride becomes an ambulance ride — I’ve seen that happen with dialysis patients. They miss their dialysis, and the next day, they’re going in an ambulance.

Our value proposition is very high-level care, and then guaranteed on-time performance.

What’s the payer profile like?

We don’t directly bill Medicaid or Medicare. We actually work through the health plans, or we work through capitated funding for the skilled nursing facility, so that we’re able to bill our clients and work with them should there be any questions. They’re the ones who are seeing the service and using it. As we expand, I think that may start to change.

Can you share how much money Ford is putting behind this specific initiative?

That is private. … I will share with you that we do run like a startup, and that’s part of my own value structure. We run one of the smallest budgets within the businesses that are being funded in Mobility, and I think we get a lot done. For startups, there is such a thing as too much money. We’re not chasing giant valuations. We’re really just trying to solve a problem, and we think that Ford has a lot of competitive strength in the area of compliance and scale and vehicle production and proprietary technology, and our team is very passionate and invested.

We’re trying to do this in a way that’s responsible. We do get the resources we need when we ask for them, but we absolutely only ask for what we need.

Anything else that you’re working on moving forward?

One of the things that we’re really looking to do that would be very differentiating in this space, is incorporating content delivery and engagement in the vehicle.

There’s a lot of companies that are competing in the transportation space, and that’s wonderful — I think everybody should pitch in and try to solve this problem — but I think when you have owned vehicles and HIPAA-compliant drivers who’ve undergone a lot of training, and you have that space, the question is: This is more than a $20 ride or a $50 ride.

I think the value really is engagement. You have a captive audience. What kind of content, in terms of helping people care more about their health and be on their wellness journey, can you deliver to that customer? And from my perspective, that’s where I think we really are augmenting the value of the service … I think the next step is to think about: How can transportation augment engagement with health care?

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