Embracing family and human connections are the most critical keys to staying well — and that includes the Pyx family. The connection I have to my staff cannot really be explained because it goes so far beyond the fact that we work together. Every day I see that I am not only helping to change the lives of the people we serve, but I’m improving the lives of the people who work for Pyx Health.
As a part of my series about “Mental Health Champions” helping to promote mental wellness, I had the pleasure to interview Cindy Jordan, Founder and CEO of Pyx Health, the first company to offer a social isolation care technology for the most vulnerable. Cindy was a Washington, DC-area police officer before transitioning to political fundraising for liberal causes. Later, she moved to Tucson, Arizona, as health care strategist at an ad agency. During that time, she developed a referral marketing tool for physicians, which she sold to The Advisory Board Company in 2013. Soon after, she saw her bipolar stepdaughter’s physical and mental health decline from stable to high-risk in less than a year. As caregiver, Cindy observed critical gaps in healthcare and learned that social isolation is the greatest impetus for health decline, particularly among vulnerable populations. This inspired her to create Pyx Health.
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is helping to promote mental wellness. Can you tell us a bit about what you or your organization are trying to address?
Loneliness is one of the most pervasive and persistent mental, physical and social health conditions. An epidemic of loneliness constituted a health crisis before Covid-19, but the pandemic has greatly exacerbated the condition and put a spotlight on the high personal, health, social and economic costs associated with it. Research shows that loneliness increases mortality rates by 26 percent, with the mortality risk for seniors increasing to 45 percent. Annual patient treatment costs for loneliness are greater than for chronic conditions such as arthritis and diabetes, and an individual with loneliness is at higher risk for Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, depression and cognitive decline.
Our company, Pyx Health, offers a combination of engaging technology and compassionate human intervention to combat the devastating mental and physical health outcomes caused by loneliness and social isolation that happen primarily outside of the traditional health care setting. Our solution can be scaled to meet even the enormous surge in loneliness caused by Covid-19. The technology identifies when users are lonely and helps uncover the support they need. Our Compassionate Call Center then connects with them to provide critical resources such as medication, food, housing, or transportation at times when those interventions can improve clinical outcomes and reduce treatment costs. In many instances, Pyx Health provides the one thing these individuals most need — a listening ear and a real human connection.
We are proving that this support helps vulnerable populations avoid unnecessary emergency room visits and hospital readmissions. Health plans that contract with Pyx Health save over $5,000 per member within six months. Plan members get more support for their acute social determinant of health needs, more human interaction, and greater connection than traditional care can provide.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
My stepdaughter was diagnosed with schizophrenia and struggled terribly. I saw her physical and mental health decline rapidly from stable to high risk. In one year, she had 13 emergency room visits and, because she didn’t live at home, we were entirely unaware. Through this experience, I kept thinking, “What did we miss?” and “How can we get in front of this to interrupt the downward spiral?” I knew a lot about the health care industry and decided that if I was going to wage war on loneliness, I would need to work within the health care system to truly solve the problem.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “AHA! Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
My AHA! moment resulted from past mistakes. One of the companies that I started was acquired by a larger firm when mine was still small. After the merger it was run by someone else and things went badly; I had no say in it, to my great frustration. When I came up with the idea for Pyx Health it was a very personal thing for me. I had a lot of passion for it and I understood the impact it could have. I had already built and sold a successful health care company, so I knew a lot about the business environment. And I knew that the health care industry was doing very little — effectively nothing — to attack the issue of loneliness and social isolation
Share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization.
Like a lot of entrepreneurs, I think I’m living through the most interesting story yet — Covid-19. When the pandemic hit, we were suddenly propelled into the stratosphere. We grew 690% in less than a year, which has been exciting and frightening all at once. In a mere seven months, my company went from a startup with a handful of employees, where I was squarely the entrepreneur, to now a 40-plus organization where I’m the CEO. The difference between the two is not lost on me. As a full-time entrepreneur I got to be the idea person, constantly creating. Now we’re in the stage of executing, growing, scaling, and constantly improving our product. It’s a completely different way of being, and a different kind of pressure.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
Many people have helped me on this journey in significant ways, but I never had a mentor in the classic sense. No one took me under their wing and helped me figure out how to start, build, and sell a business. I’ve found my own path, often through error and correction. The most significant people have been my cheerleaders — those who invested in my first company. It’s easier to find “believers” when you start your second and third successful businesses; once you have success, people are more likely to believe you can do it again. But that first time, there was no objective reason to believe in me. It took brave people to stand with me. I’ve had a really solid group cheering me on and supporting me from the beginning. In many ways, that’s more valuable than having a mentor.
According to Mental Health America’s report, over 44 million Americans have a mental health condition, yet there’s a stigma about mental illness. Can you share the reasons you think this is so?
I think that for a long time we didn’t understand what mental health actually meant, and so in order for society to feel comfortable, we put mental health in a corner and stigmatized it. That was most unfortunate. As we have studied the brain and identified the chemicals in our bodies that cause and exacerbate conditions, we realize that people suffer from mental illness just as they suffer from all other kinds of chronic conditions. So now we must reverse this stigmatization. In reality, there truly isn’t one person in this country who at some point in time hasn’t had a mental health issue, whether it was anxiety, depression or the grieving over loss of a loved one. We should all be ready to be more open and accepting of mental health issues, as we have all experienced a small window into what many people deal with daily.
In your experience, what should individuals, society, and the government do to better support people suffering from mental illness?
There is impressive research indicating, and our data concurs, that loneliness is often a predecessor and even a predictor of physical and mental health issues. Given our expertise on loneliness, we have a good idea of what needs to be done. First, Government needs to fund the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of loneliness. It must be easier for payers and providers to be reimbursed. Loneliness should be recognized and treated as a chronic condition. Next, individuals need to have empathy. If you haven’t experienced chronic mental health issues, you surely know someone who has. We all must empathize with those who are experiencing mental health problems, loneliness and social isolation. That is a tall order in our current environment, but it is critical. Lastly, society collectively should require Government to fund an effective response to this problem.
What are six strategies you use to promote your own wellbeing and mental wellness? Can you please give a story or example for each?
- I wholeheartedly believe in exercising my brain just as I exercise my body. I believe in manifesting and I believe in meditation. I try to practice both on a daily basis because they give me perspective to better meet each day’s challenges and opportunities.
- I work out every day — even if only for 20 minutes, if that’s all I can spare. Exercise releases endorphins and puts me in a state that prepares me physically and mentally.
- I believe in being authentic. Authenticity inspires accountability. It’s really difficult not to hold yourself accountable if there is a culture of authenticity.
- I very much believe in practicing gratitude. It’s one thing to be thankful and feel grateful, but it’s another thing to practice it. You should tell people you feel grateful for them and for their effort. You must also acknowledge when good things happen and even be grateful for the bad, because it pushed you in the direction that you were supposed to go.
- It sounds trite, but eating healthy and getting enough sleep are critical for me to operate at my best.
- Embracing family and human connections are the most critical keys to staying well — and that includes the Pyx family. The connection I have to my staff cannot really be explained because it goes so far beyond the fact that we work together. Every day I see that I am not only helping to change the lives of the people we serve, but I’m improving the lives of the people who work for Pyx Health.
What are your favorite books, podcasts or resource that inspire you to be a mental health champion?
I can’t think of a book that inspired me to be a mental health champion, but there is a book that inspires me to be a good boss and entrepreneur, and that’s Bad Blood, John Carreyrou’s fascinating study of Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes. As far as podcasts, Brené Brown strikes a chord with me because her work is so grounded in research and it has helped us understand the deep, abiding, importance of human connection.
If you could tell other people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society as you have, what would you tell them?
Striving to make a positive impact on society and our environment is the most fulfilling and rewarding path one can possibly choose. Not only do you get to experience fulfillment and reward, you bring along a group of people, helping them live their purpose and create their own way to make a positive impact. That’s the beauty about being a leader — inevitably you will develop a following, and those individuals will feel exactly as you do. There is joy in paying it forward.