Monika Roots, MD, FAP of Bend Health

An exclusive Tech Tribune Q&A with Monika Roots, MD, FAP (co-founder and president) of Bend Health, which was honored in our:
Tell us the origin story of Bend Health – what problem were you trying to solve and why?

Clearly there is a youth mental health crisis in our country. The perfect storm of pandemic isolation, social media prevalence, global violence, and hormonal changes have made rates of anxiety and depression amongst adolescents skyrocket. Ask anyone on the frontlines of mental health work and they’ll tell you that the demand for support far outweighs the resources that are available across the country.

It has become my purpose in life to find solutions to this epidemic because I know what it feels like to be a young person with nowhere to turn. My mother struggled with mental illness and watching her firsthand had a huge impact on our entire family. I was raised in a multicultural environment – my mom was a first-generation immigrant from Brazil and my father was from the U.S. The experience of straddling two cultures, while also navigating my mother’s ups and downs, was isolating.

As a child & adolescent psychiatrist, I was completely overwhelmed by the sheer number of kids and teens in need of help. The pediatricians I’ve worked closely with are doing the best they can, but they are slammed. And when they refer out to therapy, many of them can’t get appointments for their patients for months at a time. Unfortunately there is a huge lack of access to child and adolescent psychiatrists for most families, often leading to misdiagnoses such as anxiety being labeled as ADHD.

I saw the ways in which children were being overlooked, marginalized, and relegated to the notion of being “seen and not heard”. And as a mom-of-two, I knew that I couldn’t just sit by and watch. I had to do something.

So in 2021, I left my last position as Chief Medical Officer of Sanvello, which primarily treated adults, and co-founded Bend Health with my husband, Kurt Roots. Together, we’ve set out to revolutionize mental health care for kids, teens, and young adults. Bend offers a full continuum of care, focusing on not just enhancing access, but measurement informed care, and collaboration with the different stakeholders in the ecosystem that youth depend on – their caregivers, primary care physicians, schools and others.

At Bend, we are committed to making mental health support accessible and sustainable by focusing on preventing issues by teaching fundamental life skills to kids early on. Appointments are available in days vs. 6-12 months at traditional practices, ensuring kids in need of help receive timely care. We’ve established meaningful partnerships with leading insurers, employers, and health systems, covering a combined total of 95M people, providing comprehensive care through supervised care teams of coaches, therapists, and psychiatric providers, as well as neuropsychological evaluations for ages 2-25.

What was the biggest hurdle you encountered in your journey?

We faced some big hurdles in launching Bend Health, particularly in navigating the complexities of healthcare. We needed to balance the alignment of member/patient experience, clinical staffing, and reimbursement. Since we focus on pediatrics, we understood the importance of adopting a family systems approach to care. The decision to incorporate a pediatric Collaborative Care Model (CoCM) introduced new hurdles, and required the integration of clinical and billing workflows across multiple health systems. The sales strategy, targeting payers, employers, and health systems as the first sale, followed by engaging families as the second sale, brought an added layer of complexity to our journey, and we are proud that we were ultimately able to successfully launch Bend Health.

What does the future hold for Bend Health?

Bend Health initially focused on serving kids and teens aged 1-17. However, recognizing the unique challenges young adults face as they navigate newfound independence and responsibility, we recently expanded Bend’s services to include mental health care for ages 18-25. This expansion allows us to create a seamless continuum of care, ensuring that kids who have grown up within the Bend Health system can transition into adulthood with ongoing support.

We’re also continuously expanding our body of research, and now have proven outcomes through Bend Health’s 8 peer-reviewed published studies. Through coaching, therapy, and faster access to evaluation and treatment by psychiatric experts, Bend achieves better outcomes utilizing measurement-based care and supports happier, healthier kids and families.

We are also looking into ways in which we can support people with higher acuity needs.

What are your thoughts on the local tech startup scene in Wisconsin?

The tech startup scene in Wisconsin, particularly in Madison, is gaining traction and showing a lot of promise. We’ve seen an emergence of tech startups in healthcare and biotech sectors, especially. Companies of influence such as Epic, Exact Sciences, Redox, Fetch and many others have created a hub of innovation, attracting top talent from across the country. The city of Madison provides a supportive environment for entrepreneurs, a great quality of life and reasonable cost of living. I know that the startup scene will continue to grow and thrive in Madison and Wisconsin more broadly!

What’s your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Being an entrepreneur is hard! No two days are the same and the climb to success feels insurmountable most of the time. However, to be successful actually requires taking the same tenets of coaching that we use in our mental health programs. As you focus on a project or a new idea, make sure that it is S-M-A-R-T! Focus on: S- specific problem that you can identify in detail (don’t bite off more than you can chew); M- what are the measure of success (the progress and success of an initiative needs to be measurable); A- is the project or new idea achievable with the resources that you have, and if not, identify what you need; R- is the project or new idea relevant to your larger objectives; and finally T- what is the timeline for the project or more simply, what are the project milestones and deadlines, because without one, your momentum will be too slow or too fast to succeed. You won’t be perfect everyday, but if you keep SMART in your mind, the climb of Mt. Everest will not seem as daunting!


For more exclusive interviews, see our full Profile of a Founder series