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Helping Hands, Healing Hearts

May/03/2024 / by Elizabeth Marglin

CareYaya aims to modernize homecare for millions

When someone you love needs caregiving, it’s often not possible—or wise—to take up all the slack. You might need outside help, but the pickings tend to be slim and the expense often exorbitant.

As a young child, Neal Shah watched his mother take care of her father, and then, early in Shah’s own marriage, his wife faced a serious cancer diagnosis. For a period of time, Shah left his job to become the primary caregiver. As his wife underwent treatment, Shah noted how hard it was to find competent and attentive caregivers. The industry, as it stood, was hard to access, afford, and navigate, a broken system with a clunky, outdated interface. 

The statistics convey the scope of the problem—while demand is great, the available options are simply not aligned with most family’s financial capacities. Standard rates charged by conventional care companies are $45 an hour, although the caregiver takes home less than half. By 2028, the need for a paid direct care workforce is expected to grow by 1.1 million new jobs, due to the ballooning number of older adults and increased longevity. 

Helping Hands, Healing Hearts

Shah, a former Wall Street finance professional with a track record in investment and fund management, was on a mission to fill the gap in affordable caregiving. “I saw a massive problem matched with a tremendous business opportunity and I became obsessed with designing a better solution,” Shah says. He put his mind to work to find a more modern, tech-savvy solution that aligned with the expectations of a new generation of care recipients and caregivers — and his company CareYaya was born. 

Yaya means grandmother in Greek, caregiver in Swahili and Thai, and nanny in Hindi. Shah adds that Yaya is also an acronym, as in “You Are Your Advocate,” which is his pronouncement of the future of self-directed care. The company pairs pre-health-career college students with families in need of home care for a loved one. It’s modeled on the digital on-demand marketplace model like Uber, Airbnb, and Rover and it’s now one of the fastest-growing health-tech startups.

“Within South Asian culture, taking care of family is something people do, as I experienced caring for my grandfather,” says Shah. “But the new economic and global reality is that South Asians are often also moving away from parents—and definitely grandparents—for jobs. If you don’t want to farm out care to a broken system, or relocate back and quit your job, which is unsustainable, what can you do?”

By targeting students who are on a pre-med or pre-nursing track and for whom the exposure to caregiving is a vital aspect of their career development, CareYaya ensures that caregivers have a vested interest in the role. 

“It’s mutually beneficial — the older person is mentoring the caregiver, trying to be a doctor, nurse or physician,” says Shah. “The students learn a lot about life stories, experiences—all the joys, and heartbreaks and what it is like to live a full life.” 

The intergenerational aspect of CareYaya might be one of the secrets to its success. “These are the two populations with the worst mental health problems right now. Social isolation takes a big toll on older people. And a lot of younger people are lacking purpose and meaning.” By connecting the generations, says Shah, you can improve both mental health and loneliness, a win-win for all.

Nearly 17 percent of the U.S. adult population, roughly 53 million, provides unpaid, informal care to an adult over the age of 50. More than 75 percent of these caregivers are women.

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