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Hennepin Healthcare is among the nation's first nine health care groups to earn recognition from an accreditation organization for progress on health equity.

The Minneapolis-based parent of HCMC hospital was awarded the designation by the National Committee for Quality Assurance, a Washington D.C.-based group that accredits health insurers on quality measures. The group developed a scoring system on health equity goals that applies to both health systems and health plans.

The seven health insurers and two health care providers being recognized have excelled, NCQA says, in everything from partnering with community groups to offering social resources that aim to address disparate health outcomes in racial and ethnic minority groups.

Winners include a division of Minnetonka-based UnitedHealthcare that provides health insurance coverage in Michigan.

"As more states require health equity accreditation, these first organizations to earn Health Equity Accreditation Plus will stand out as examples for others to emulate," said Bryan Buckley, the director of health equity initiatives at NCQA, in a statement. The new standard is more far-reaching than a health equity accreditation the group launched previously.

Many NCQA targets in population health and community connections validated work that already was underway at Hennepin Healthcare, said Nneka Sederstrom, the health system's chief health equity officer. Leaders at the health system already were holding regular meetings where community stakeholders are invited to voice concerns and can call for changes, she said.

"One of the reasons why the health equity department was created was, in particular, in response to [Hennepin County] calling racism a public health crisis, the murder of George Floyd and the community saying: 'Enough is enough — the hospital sees this every day, we want you to actually do something about it,'" Sederstrom said.

"That began our question-and-answer sessions with the community," she added. "We ask: How are we doing? What do you need from us? ... Many of our community partnerships have developed as a result."

Hennepin Healthcare has a strong practice of making language interpreter services available to non-English speakers when they arrive for health care, Sederstrom said. But through the accreditation process, the health system found room for improvement because its website doesn't make it easy for patients to identify health care providers who speak their language.

"None of the elements that they're asking for are extraordinary — they're all things that are definitely the right thing to do," Sederstrom said. "As an institution that's committed to addressing health equity head on, there's no reason that we can't be doing all of them."