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Long Beach Health Department Director Ron Arias
November 20, 2012 - After 12-plus years at the helm of the Long Beach Health and Human Services Department, one of only three city jurisdictions in the state, Ron Arias announced he is retiring at the end of this year.
Before he retires from a career in public health, Arias agreed to sit down with the Long Beach Business Journal to discuss how, as director, he has helped develop and maintain the local department's public health programs and supported the overall wellbeing of the community.
Arias has lived in Long Beach for more than 40 years. "I would say that one of the reasons I was hired is due to the fact that I have been in Long Beach since '69," he told the Business Journal. "I graduated in '71 from Long Beach State, and then I worked at the East Long Beach Neighborhood Center in '71 and '72. So I started at the local level."
His work at the neighborhood center led Arias to pursue a graduate degree in public administration at USC. He continued his career in public health working for the Community Health Foundation of Los Angeles and the Health Systems Agency for Los Angeles County before getting a job with the American Lung Association in 1983 as the director of communications and government affairs. In 1990, Arias decided to go back to his roots and was hired as the manager of the public health bureau in Long Beach.
"The psychology of complex organizations, whether you're in the nonprofit sector or the private sector or the government sector, is relatively similar," Arias said, reflecting on his work on the local, county and national levels. "You have identified leaders. There are policies and procedures that you have to learn. There are people who have more influence than others. And you learn what is required to get things done."
Arias worked in that capacity for a decade before he began his tenure as director of the department in February 2000. Since then, he has spearheaded the development of the Miller Family Health Education Center, an educational hub for collaboration with the city's diverse community on public health; established Community Health Research Studies (part one and two); helped roll out the city's first 100 percent ban on smoking; developed chronic disease prevention programs and more.
LBBJ: What initially attracted you to the healthcare field?
Arias: I think that the attraction for me was a desire to help the community. My very first job was at the East Long Beach Neighborhood Center right on the corner of Anaheim Street and Junipero Avenue, which later became the United Cambodian Community building. In the late '60s and early '70s it was an all-inclusive community center. I was a housing coordinator. Renters would point out problems with their landlords and ask for help, and we would try to negotiate repairs. At one point, somebody said I should contact the health department for help, and to my surprise they had a health housing program that required apartment complexes of four units or more to meet certain standards.
That was my first introduction to public health. I had originally thought I was going to be a teacher. I had an interest in coaching, and my undergraduate degree is in physical education, kinesiology. But after that experience I decided to go after my master's degree in public health administration with an emphasis in health services administration. I followed primarily a public health track since then.
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