Could walk-in clinics ease the opioid crisis?

Chicago Booth Executive MBA student launches startup to prevent rise in mental health ER visits

As a physician in psychiatry at a New York hospital, University of Chicago Booth School of Business student Tamir Aldad sees countless mental health patients in the emergency room each year, only to have to send many of them home with referrals to seek treatment on their own.

It is frustrating. The nation’s opioid epidemic and related mental health crisis have prompted millions of Americans annually to seek treatment in emergency rooms. They arrive with such mental illnesses as substance use disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or potential risk of self-harm.

But most of these emergency room patients—7 out of 10 by some measures—go home untreated. They are unable to see an inpatient psychiatrist because their symptoms aren’t severe enough to be admitted to the hospital. Instead, they “boomerang back to the ER in a couple of weeks with the same or worse problem than they came in for in the first place,” Aldad said.

Outside the hospital, the outlook isn’t much better. The wait to see a psychiatrist in an outpatient clinic or doctor’s office is four to eight weeks in New York, and longer in rural parts of the country where the shortage of psychiatrists is more acute.

To fill these potentially life-threatening gaps in U.S. health care, the 33-year-old Aldad enrolled in Chicago Booth’s Executive MBA program intent on finding a way to address the problem. Aldad enrolled in the Booth’s Executive MBA entrepreneurship track and launched a startup called Mindful Urgent Care with fellow Booth students.

Mindful Urgent Care is a walk-in psychiatric clinic designed to provide same-day mental health and addiction treatment to both insured and cash-paying clients. Staffed by a team of mental health professionals, including psychiatrists, nurse practitioners and physician assistants, Mindful Urgent Care aims to increase mental health access and speed quality and affordable treatment to a population of patients with unmet needs.

The first retail clinic, at 3,000 square feet, is under construction in West Hempstead, New York and is scheduled to open this summer. A second 2,000-square-foot clinic is slated to open in midtown Manhattan later this year. Aldad’s business plan calls for opening 25 centers in New York, Connecticut and New Jersey in the next five years.

“The Executive MBA program introduced me to extraordinarily talented individuals who are leaders in their fields and who are passionate about collaborating,” said Aldad, who is a physician at John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in New York and a research fellow at Yale School of Medicine. “The sense of camaraderie in the program is strong and you’re surrounded by experts who are humble, approachable and eager to be help.”

New Venture Challenge serves as catalyst

The Mindful Urgent Care pilot team comprises nine Booth Executive MBA students who specialize in health care franchise development, medicine, finance, marketing and operations.

The Mindful Urgent Care team placed first in Booth’s Global New Venture Challenge in April, a Shark Tank-style business competition for Booth’s Executive MBA students, designed to help students turn their ideas into viable companies. The team advanced to compete in Booth’s top-ranked New Venture Challenge on May 30 with startups from across the university, where they won second place. Between the two competitions, the startup raised $140,000 in funding. The NVC competition is the premier startup competition launch program run by the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.

Booth’s Executive MBA program connected Aldad to a strong alumni network that is “incredibly loyal and cohesive,” Aldad said. He hears from the extended Booth community regularly about partnership opportunities.

“The program itself is known for its quality, and introducing yourself as a graduate demonstrates that you are a serious individual and have the skills to bring a concept to market successfully, " said Aldad. “During class, I often posed strategic questions about Mindful that fueled a robust discussion between the professor and my peers. It felt like having an advisory board you can always turn to."

Aldad’s strategy is to meet patient need through a mix of psychiatrists and “physician extenders” such as nurse practitioners and physicians assistants with mental health and psychiatric specialties.

“Because we use physician extenders and not strictly psychiatrists, we are able to scale our model,” Aldad said. “By no means are we trying to compete for business and take away from traditional psychiatrists in their practices, but we want to get these patients the help they deserve. We want to start treatment with medication as soon as possible and provide symptom stabilization so patients can receive some relief.”

—Adapted from a story that first appeared on the Chicago Booth website.