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Healthcare startup receives grant, trains students to be home healthcare providers

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Left to right: Maggie Xu (Lead Product Design), Gavry Eshet (CTO), Aditi Dumpala (UNC Student and Ambassador for YayaGuide), Neal K. Shah (CEO) and Nirvana Tari (Director of Social Determinants of Health). Photo courtesy of Neal Shah.

CareYaya, a health-tech startup based in Research Triangle Park, was awarded a grant from the National Institute on Aging in March that will develop an AI-enabled training application for undergraduate college students to become home healthcare providers.

The training program, which will become available to students at the beginning of this summer, was developed to help individuals and families who have unexpectedly become caregivers for loved ones suffering from Alzheimer's disease and related dementias.

The growing medical tech company aims to provide home health care for medically vulnerable elderly individuals and children. It received the a2 Collective Coordinating Center’s Pilot Award, though the amount of money they received has not been disclosed to the public at the time of publication.

The a2 Collective includes three artificial intelligence and technology collaboratories at Johns Hopkins University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Massachusetts Amherst that develop AI-powered technologies to improve the quality of life for the nation’s aging population.

Neal Shah, CEO of CareYaya, said the startup’s application for the grant was developed in response to disproportionate and growing health inequities affecting Black and Latino families. 

“We’re empowering people who need care, and their family caregivers, to take control and manage their own care,” Shah said.

The AI-powered training program is structured similarly to the language learning app Duolingo, Shah said. Application users answer questions about their — or their loved ones' — health situation, which personalizes their caregiver training program into bite-sized modules.

The program is specialized for family caregivers, as well as undergraduate college students referred to as student caregivers.

“We found that the student population really wanted to get care experience, and get hours for their future graduate qualifications,” Shah said.

CareYaya was created in 2021 in collaboration with the UNC Department of Computer Science through a startup accelerator at UNC’s Innovate Carolina. The startup targeted college students with interests in clinical careers to provide home health care for ADRD elders.

During their first year, the startup expanded its student outreach to schools across the state and in South Carolina. Currently, CareYaya’s reach spans nationwide with around 12,000 students across more than 25 universities employed as caregivers.

Aditi Dumpala, a UNC sophomore majoring in biostatistics, was a student caregiver during her freshman year and was recently accepted into the startup’s ambassador program at UNC this year. Dumpala said being a caregiver gave her a heightened sense of responsibility that allowed her to learn social and health care skills like bedside manner.

“That experience has definitely been very rewarding because it gives me a lot of agency as I start trying to become a professional caregiver,” Dumpala said.

Shah said CareYaya aims to advance health and care equity by closing an intergenerational gap in our society. The startup aims to achieve this goal by connecting digitally savvy students to the older population through on-demand caregiving services. Shah said new healthcare providers need to have the opportunity to practice the skills they need to be great healthcare providers.

Nirvana Mansour Hosseini Tari, director of social determinants of health and community partnerships at CareYaya, said the award provides students with the opportunity to gain interpersonal skills that cannot be obtained in the classroom. Tari was a caregiver after graduating from Elon University in 2022 and used her gap year to gain clinical hours with CareYaya.

“It’s really inspiring to be able to see the impact that you make on a day-to-day basis,” Tari said.

Tari, amongst others at the startup, provides guidance for CareYaya student caregivers and ambassadors. CareYaya mentors are currently working with student caregivers to hold digital health literacy sessions to teach the older populations about how to use digital resources. Dumpala said in many instances most clients just want company and to learn about the happenings in the world.

Shah said student caregivers have done many creative things during their time with CareYaya, and the team hopes to grow their student reach.

“It’s a major advancement in increasing access to care for the whole population,” Shah said.

@dailytarheel

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