Firefly grows in wake of healthcare disruptions in southeastern Mass.

Firefly grows in wake of healthcare disruptions in southeastern Mass.

Firefly grows in wake of healthcare disruptions in southeastern Mass.

By Cassie McGrath – Reporter, Boston Business Journal

Healthcare in southeastern Massachusetts has been hampered by unforeseen events this year. In June, Quincy-based physician organization Compass Medical abruptly shut down, leaving many in Southeastern Massachusetts without access to primary care providers. That came on top of a shutdown of parts of Signature Brockton Hospital in February due to an 11-alarm fire.

But a Watertown-based virtual primary care company has taken the opportunity to fill the need thanks to the new popularity of telehealth.

Launched in 2018, Firefly Health provides patients with a primary care physician, a nurse practitioner, health guide, and behavioral health specialist. Firefly’s membership doubled in the first half of the year, and while the company didn’t say whether that growth was largely in southeastern Massachusetts, it says it’s made a concerted effort to attract former Compass patients following the closure.

Firefly aims to lower the risk of patients developing severe conditions that need expensive treatments through more frequent contact with doctors. According to Firefly’s CEO Fay Rotenberg, members engage with health care providers 45 times a year on average.

There’s a desperate need for primary care in the state. On average, Massachusetts residents wait 33 days for a PCP and five months for behavioral health access, according Rotenberg. Firefly Health guarantees same-day access for a PCP, and behavioral health is available immediately for new members.

Rotenberg said she hopes the closure of Compass spurs more people to try virtual healthcare.

“It is an opportunity for people to see and experience what else is out there and honestly, what what better care can can look like,” she said. “Many people do things because it’s what they’re used to, versus because it is what is better care, or what is a better experience.”

Firefly Health has 150 employees and provides care in all 50 states.

Healthcare shortage

Brockton Mayor Robert Sullivan and Brockton’s chief financial officer, Troy Clarkson, credit Firefly with stepping in to address the lack of sufficient healthcare. 

Sullivan was himself a patient of Compass Medical when it shut down. He says he scrambled to find another primary care physician so he could stay on top of his cholesterol medication, and was able to find a new primary care physician in Quincy, but said that not everyone is able to drive to a new doctor. 

Clarkson, a Cape Cod resident, is now a patient of Firefly Health after his former primary care physician of 30 years retired. Clarkson learned about the company when the city brought Firefly in to do a presentation as a possible primary care option for its employees.

“The main advantage is accessibility of healthcare, so that people who, now with Compass and Brockton Hospital are struggling to have access to good quality healthcare, can have that,” Clarkson said.

Sullivan said that while the Brockton Hospital still has a 24/7 walk-in clinic and a nursing facility, its operating room and emergency department are still closed. The hospital hopes to be up and running again fully in December, he said.

Virtual on the rise

While the Compass closure and Brockton Hospital fire have exacerbated problems accessing primary care in the region, Sandhya Rao, chief medical officer for Blue Cross Blue Shield Massachusetts, said that the state as a whole has been facing a primary care shortage for years. Primary care physicians are leaving the workforce in Massachusetts at a slightly higher rate than the rest of the country.

Rao said the problem affects both healthy people and those with symptoms, and in both cases, it leads to higher healthcare costs. Without primary care, people miss more work, she added, and there’s a lot of unnecessary suffering that disproportionately harms people of color. 

“That’s how a closure like Compass, or even these longer term trends we’ve been seeing, really affect people living in the state,” she said.

But Rao said that BCBS, Massachusetts’ largest health plan, is “very enthusiastic about the use of virtual care to address this primary care crisis,” like Firefly health.

“We have been really impressed with what these solutions have been able to show,” she said. BCBS also works with Eden Health, On Belay Health Solutions and VillageMD.

Rotenberg said that Firefly aims to improve four areas: access, affordability, equity and the overall provider workforce shortage.

“Those are really the four things that Firefly is not only poised to, but has already demonstrated our ability to impact … I’m hoping that more and more Massachusetts residents are seeing Firefly as a solution.”

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