Healthy Howard wins award for its health coaching

Healthy Howard Inc., which helps county residents obtain health care services, has won an award from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for its health coaching program — one of the nonprofit's most controversial aspects.

Every person who signs up for the Healthy Howard Heath Plan, the nonprofit's service plan, is assigned a health coach to help them meet their health and wellness goals. The health plan is not insurance.

Healthy Howard Health Coaching won the 2011 Healthy Living Innovation Award for health care delivery. HHS also gave out innovation awards in seven other categories. Winners were announced Friday, July 15.

"We've always hoped that heath coaching would be a national model, and I think this (award) demonstrates that it has potential to be duplicated," said Liddy Garcia-Bunuel, executive director of Healthy Howard Inc. "The whole country is moving toward more prevention and coordinated care, and I think that's what health coaching is all about. That and accountability."

But County Council member Greg Fox, a Fulton Republican who has criticized the health coaching as a unnecessary expense, said the award is "meaningless.

"If you have the right person writing up an award application and the right people politically supporting it, you can get an award for anything," he said.

Applicants were narrowed down by a panel of judges from HHS before being posted online for a public voting period. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius made the final selection based on five criteria: creativity and innovation, leadership, sustainability, replicability and results/outcomes.

The award winners will receive recognition from Sebelius at a public ceremony in Washington and will have the opportunity to present their innovations at a national conference later this year.

This is the first year HHS has presented these awards, which, according to a news release, "represented an exciting chance to foster the spread of effective, community-based efforts that employ innovative approaches to promote healthy weight, physical activity and nutrition."

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