‘We Are All Stewards of a Movement’
Arra Yerganian, an SPH Dean’s Advisory Board member and leader in marketing and brand strategy, discusses the intersection of public health and private industry in the era of COVID-19.
There is no shortage of lessons that the world can learn from the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on nearly every facet of daily life. Among them are the need for an increased focus on public health policy, science, and research, says Arra Yerganian, a member of the School of Public Health Dean’s Advisory Board.
“The pandemic has heightened everyone’s awareness of public health,” says Yerganian, who is a leader in marketing, branding, and sales, and has overseen brand strategy at companies such as Tivity Health, Sutter Health, One Medical, and the University of Phoenix. “COVID has made individuals recognize that science and research really do matter, and that this public health crisis can only be averted through increased funding, increased scholarship, and an increased understanding of what is really driving the social determinants of health that impact all of us.”
In addition to DAB, Yerganian serves on several boards as an advisor and consultant in healthcare, education, and technology. As the country emerges from a difficult winter, businesses are beginning to look toward the future and determine how they can become better prepared for future challenges, he says.
“This pandemic should serve as a wake-up call for corporations to recognize that they they need to do their part and that they have a duty to perform,” Yerganian says. “It’s really important for us all to think about the importance of our role in the community and be more active than we have in the past, because we are stewards of a movement that’s taking place in this country.”
Yerganian spoke further about the role of public health in the corporate world, and how the events of the past year have broadened his own understanding of public health.
How have you observed the intersection of public health and industry?
People are recognizing that the connection between where you live, where you play, how you’re educated, what access you have to clean water, nutritious food, and gun-free zones, has an impact not only on your personal and private life, but also your work and professional life.If you can’t leave your kids at home or provide them with nutritious meals, that causes stress and consternation.
I think these issues were taken for granted before the pandemic, with the mindset that what will happen, will happen, and it’s your problem to figure out. Today, I think we’re much more reticent. We understand that as as a populace, we have to work diligently to support each other. If we’re cognizant of everyone’s challenges and concerns—not just the vital few, but the greater mass—we will all be better off.
How has the pandemic informed your perspective of environmental health?
I think it has heightened my awareness of the environmental factors that contribute to health. As a dad of three, when one of my kids comes home with the sniffles, I start getting worried, but then I remember that it’s spring, and they have allergies. Walking outside with a mask won’t prevent you from having those allergens.
I also recognize that the changing climate, such as what recently happened in Texas, are real. We need to embrace the study of science to ensure that we’re doing the right things to prevent the climate from having these extreme fluctuations, whether it’s overheating or cooling. Living in California, I woke up yesterday thinking, ‘it’s almost fire season again.’ Five years ago, I would have never thought that way, and I’ve lived here for 20 years. The environmental swings that we’re experiencing can be affected by human behavior, so all of these things become relevant when you think about the role of public health and the role of a university teaching people about treating the environment with care, and even the way our kids think about their role in the environment.
At Tivity Health, you led brand strategy for the company’s signature programs, including senior health and fitness program Silver Sneakers. From your perspective, how have seniors been most impacted by the pandemic?
As a marketer, I’ve always believed that words really do matter, and seniors are part of a group that people do not typically communicate with effectively. What saddens me most about the pandemic is the vernacular that’s being used. The term ‘social distancing’ makes my skin crawl. We need social connection and physical distancing during a pandemic.
I think it’s so important for seniors to recognize that they have advocates and that they’re not alone. They need to be physically active, and they need to have access to great healthcare and continuous education. Younger seniors who are just now becoming Medicare-Medicaid eligible are very different from the seniors of 20 years ago. They’re digitally connected and generally healthier. They want to be involved in life in a meaningful way, and it’s incumbent upon programs like Silver Sneakers to have an impact on these people’s lives to keep them from costing the healthcare system significant dollars. It’s about companionship, and that’s what we’re missing now with COVID. I’m glad we’re vaccinating seniors quickly, and hopefully we’ll be in a position where they’ll feel more secure, less isolated, and more engaged.
As an ambassador for the School of Public Health, if you could have one message that would reach 380,000 alums of Boston University, what would you want them to know about public health or SPH?
I really do believe that science and health matter now more than they’ve ever mattered before, and that we need to invest in research.
I grew up in a home where my dad was a scientist and my mom was a musician and an educator, and I saw the struggles of my dad doing research six days a week. What always struck me was how much of his time—probably 30 to 40 percent—was spent writing for grants and justifying his existence. My wife is a neuroscientist and she does the same thing. I would say let’s all support this movement of discovery. We need more individuals who are committed to the study of public health, because it has an impact on all of us—not just on the poor and disparaged, but on those who have the means to live a different life.
If I’ve learned anything during my time on the Dean’s Advisory Board, it’s that what affects one person can certainly affect the masses. I don’t think I understood that before, as well as I do today. I’d hope that all of our 380,000 constituents start recognizing the impact that every decision they make has on the greater community that we serve. As a citizen of this planet, we have a finite amount of time, and we need to recognize the importance of every move we make.