Lightfully Behavioral Health’s scale-up effort now includes expanding its virtual intensive outpatient program (IOP) to college students nationwide.
The fledgling IOP stands among a small group of virtual behavioral health companies taking on intensive services — and an even smaller handful of companies targeting the collegiate population.
Mental health services offered by colleges are not new. However, worsening mental health among younger generations has led to more and more intense mental health care needs.
“[Colleges] don’t have enough resources… Counselors are struggling with what to do with students that maybe [they are] not prepared to manage,” Andie Hollowell, chief growth officer for Lightfully Behavioral Health, told Behavioral Health Business. “Based on the fact that colleges are largely providing outpatient services where, optimally, they are seen once a week, what we offer is a step up from that; it’s a higher level of treatment. We look at it as a supportive service or an additional referral for that counselor or student health center.”
Lightfully Behavioral Health launched its college-student-focused virtual IOP — branded as Lightfully U — in October 2023. It only serves students in California at the moment. The company is headquartered in Thousand Oaks, California.
The plan is to expand the number of payer contracts in the Golden State and add more states to the Lightfully U footprint. By year’s end, Lightfully Behavioral Health intends to expand into three other states, Hollowell said.
Several companies offer outpatient, low-intensity mental health and wellness services for college students, primarily via telehealth. A few examples include TimelyCare, Mantra Health, and BetterMynd. Very few offer intensive services. A rare example includes the partnership forged by Mantra Health and the virtual youth mental health IOP provider Charlie Health. The partnership gives Mantra Health’s college student patient population ccess to intensive mental health. It was announced around the time that Lightfully U launched, in August 2023.
For the most part, colleges are trying to get the most applicable service to the most students, exchanging treatment intensity for timely availability of care that meets diverse needs.
And most of those services don’t come through a company whose core focus is integrated, facility-based outpatient and residential care. Lightfully Behavioral Health was founded in 2021. It launched with $30 million of backing from New York City-based health care-focused private equity firm Regal Healthcare Capital Partners. Its five-year plan calls for 30 new locations in California and Washington.
Since its public debut about two years ago, it has opened 13 facilities in California. It announced it would do so in February 2022. The company plans to open five more facilities in California and expand into two states by the end of 2024, Hollowell said. She didn’t specify which.
Why college students?
Lightfully Behavioral Health’s admissions department flagged a large number of young, college-aged adults seeking Lightfully services. While the company had established adolescent services (ages 11 to 17 years old) and adult services at its inception, it saw a significant need to zero in on the population.
Programmatically, Lightfully Behavioral Health also recognized that college students’ specific life circumstances and health care needs look different than those of the average adult.
“It was a missing element in the market,” Hollowell said. “There was enough need and there was enough of the specified work that we needed to do with those types of clients that it just made sense for us to tailor something specifically to that need.”
Lightfully Behavioral Health also saw that its existing clinician group was equipped to address these patients. The company had already established virtual IOP services that could be the infrastructure for the service.
Some of the specific issues that Lightfully U addresses that are unique to the population are common to young adulthood. These include working through issues of homesickness, navigating life transitions and exploring intimacy and sexuality. Specific services will also include family work with the “family of choice” for patients, Hollowell said.
Lightfully U positions itself as an in-network provider. It’s in-network with “most of the big payers in the state,” and that includes the University of California system’s student health plan, UC SHIP, which is offered in partnership with Elevance Health (NYSE: ELV)
Establishing a continuum
The addition of Lightfully U offers colleges more intensive virtual services, establishing an on-campus continuum of care. And if needed, Lightfully U patients can transition again to the Lightfully Behavioral Health facilities.
The company’s effort at providing seamless transitions is rooted in close partnerships with colleges. While virtual IOP services could be marketed to a demographic generating significant demand for mental health services, the partnership element integrates care at a level that’s as close to the level of the patient as possible.
Hollowell noted there has been a massive amount of funding invested in virtual health care companies, especially behavioral health companies, in the last few years. Still, many of these virtual-first companies aren’t set up to provide care for more serious conditions that need in-person or residential treatment.
“The companies of the future that are going to be able to do great work are going to be able to offer the full spectrum of care so that they can easily transition clients between levels of care as needed,” Hollowell said.