“The company has not carried out any business during the year.”
It’s a loaded statement whichever way one looks at it.
For the largest home healthcare company in India, Portea Medical Pvt Ltd, to make this disclosure at the end of the financial year ending March 2018, may not be as heretical as it sounds. It has pivoted from being a home healthcare “company” to a “brand”. It’s the parent company Healthvista India Pvt Ltd, behind all buyouts and write-downs of healthcare assets, that runs the show. The corporate filing said so, too: “All the healthcare services which were carried out by the company are being continued by its holding company during the year.”
Brand Portea was on an upswing soon after the company raised $37.5 million in September 2015, followed by $26 million in November 2017. Apart from three quick acquisitions, the six-year-old company burnt cash with gay abandon on promotions, advertisements and commissions between 2016 and 2018. The top management, founder and CEO Meena Ganesh and COO Vaibhav Tewari, both of whom have technology business process outsourcing backgrounds, chose to play the new game by old rules. Set up call centres, train people to take calls and requests for healthcare services, match demand with in-house or outsourced supply, and scale up faster than one could spell home healthcare services. Because being first and flawed is better for most businesses than being careful and perfect.
Except in healthcare.
Today, the brand Portea is taking a beating. One of its largest hospital partners, Manipal Hospitals in Bengaluru, which had signed a three-year contract in 2015, is having second thoughts about renewing with Portea. At the end of the contract in January, Manipal only agreed to a short six-month contract wherein it reviews Portea’s performance every four weeks. If by the end of June Manipal finds services up to par, it’ll renew. Otherwise it will scrap the partnership. Meanwhile, the fed-up hospital chain has already signed up other home healthcare vendors.
“In Portea [services], Manipal found that inputs from actual qualified medical personnel were lacking. It shouldn’t be the case of outsourcing intern nurses and sending them to the patients. In the last two to three years they’ve had to put a lot of effort to change these practices,” says a senior healthcare executive with first-hand knowledge of the Portea-Manipal association. When asked, Ganesh said the contract was intact.
For large hospitals, tying up with companies like Portea, Healthcare At Home (HCAH), Medwell Ventures-led Nightingales, Care24 and the like, all at different points on the home care spectrum, makes both business and strategic sense. It reduces costs, frees up hospital real estate and builds lasting relationships with patients to whom more services could be sold within the comfort of their homes. Manipal has been generating as much as Rs 70-80 lakh ($100,600 – $115,000) for Portea every month, close to 12-13% of Healthvista’s core revenues of Rs 70.1 crore ($10 million) in 2018.