The Children's Minnesota health system launched a new program Wednesday to address health disparities among Minnesota families.

The Collective for Community Health will work with community groups to raise awareness about disparities and resources to combat them in the system and outside of it. The program comes as health care organizations across the state and country commit to facing racial health disparities that were exposed during the pandemic.

With 80% of health determined by such social factors as where people live, work or attend school, the hospital must be authentic, sustained partners with the communities they serve, said Lauren Gilchrist, who was appointed as its senior director.

"We want to centralize our community engagement work, so it'll be easier for folks to partner with us, and we want to continue to grow the support for social determinants of health," Gilchrist said.

The hospital network has been public in its efforts to tackle disparities. In 2018, the network created a health equity dashboard with data from more than 500,000 encounters with patients.

In 2017, Children's launched Community Connect, which links families to other resources such as food pantries, housing support and early childhood education that can improve a child's health. Data from that program showed participants needed fewer emergency room services and instead went to primary care clinics for more regular checkups, said Gilchrist. Children's plans to expand that program as part of the collective.

The new collective will host the existing programs and create an advisory council before the end of the year. It will bring together community representatives across the public sector, community organizations and nonprofits, alongside leaders from Children's Minnesota to help guide this next chapter, Gilchrist said.

James Burroughs, who was recently promoted at Children's to senior vice president, government and community relations, will lead the collective.

"This is a pivotal time for Children's Minnesota as we look towards the future and envision how we can use our collective voice as the kid experts to make a bigger impact in the health and well-being of kids in Minnesota, the region and nationally," Burroughs said in a news release.

A key priority for Children's includes education about childhood vaccination, as the hospital prepares to vaccinate a younger population when the Food and Drug Administration authorizes COVID-19 vaccines for children younger than age 5 in the coming months.

Gilchrist said Children's knows from their health equity data that there are significant disparities in diabetes, as well as childhood asthma management. "But we also really want to hear from partners about where our emphasis should be moving forward," she said.