Women Rising: Huge Turnout for First Meeting of SB Women’s Health Collective

By Sharon Byrne   |   October 25, 2022
Over 100 women of all ages and walks of life met this past weekend to discuss women’s health care

Dr. Katrina Mitchell penned an op-ed after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, calling for prioritizing and coordinating a full spectrum of women’s health care needs, from puberty to post-menopause. She struck a massive chord with women experiencing women’s health care in Santa Barbara, or lack thereof, and formed a Women’s Health Collective (WHC).

Alarm bells had been ringing over local women’s health care. On September 15, the Santa Barbara chapter of the International Cesarean Awareness Network (ICAN) hosted a panel discussion for women to communicate with providers directly who specialize in pregnancy and childbirth. This followed a decision by Cottage Hospital to reverse its ban on vaginal births after cesarean (VBAC), and trial of labor after cesarean (TOLOC). The inability to navigate past the ban, until recently, forced women who did not want another cesarean to leave the area to give birth. Cottage was not present at that forum.

Dr. Mitchell explained the intent of the WHC: “Our goal is to fact find and really evaluate what women are experiencing here so that we can identify what works and what gaps exist,” said Dr. Mitchell.

The WHC plans to present its community needs assessment findings to local health care leaders with hopes of garnering support and resources to make effective change.

Because health care can be very personal, the WHC will honor varying perspectives and emotions tied to every experience.

“We want this forum to be a place where we can share our experiences, listen, and validate concerns,” Dr. Mitchell said. “We aim to facilitate productive and fact-based conversations and bring women of all professional and personal backgrounds together in the community. This will be critical to creating meaningful change in our region.”

Saturday, well over 100 women attended the WHC’s first gathering at an open-air gym in Old Town Goleta. Attendees varied widely in ages and backgrounds: USCB students, new mothers, women with children with disabilities, those facing menopause, senior women, women’s healthcare providers, and mental health specialists. La Lieff wines were provided by Montecitan Gretchen Lieff.

Kathy Kelley, a development director at Montessori Center School, facilitated the meeting. She split us into 10 groups of roughly 15 women each. The discussions were jaw-dropping. Expectant mothers struggled to find appointments and faced pushback for choices like midwives or doulas. Significant childcare costs pushed some women into staying home, which led to terrible social isolation. Depression is an entirely normal reaction, but routes to mental health care were difficult to access. There is no women-centered care here for every phase of life. Diseases that mainly affect women, like thyroid, are treated with pharmaceuticals and surgery, but identifying root causes are not a priority. Most prescribed pharmaceutical doses are formulated for 180-pound males. Piecemealing of care means a woman might see eight to 10 different specialists, but there’s no communication among them. Navigating insurance was also difficult, even for those with good insurance.

Highlights of the Group’s Findings

– Significant challenges accessing women’s health care exist in Santa Barbara due to lack of providers, limited availability, fragmented care, and poor insurance coverage.

– Reproductive choices are at risk.

– These challenges are 10X harder for vulnerable and underserved populations.

– Women need better representation in local health care leadership. 

– We want women-centered care that is focused on our unique needs throughout all phases of life.

Improving women’s care will improve the health of our community:

– Women are the foundational caregivers in society, driving care and decisions for children, parents, partners, and countless others.

– Women assume the vast majority of work of raising the children of our community, and the care they receive impacts the health of the entire family.

The WHC plans to continue meeting to tackle these issues. If you’re interested, please email SBWHC2022@gmail.com.  

Sharon Byrne is the Executive Director of the Montecito Association


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