More than 100 women of all ages and walks of life came together this past weekend to discuss women’s health care.
dr catrina mitchell wrote an op-ed after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe vs. Wade, calling to prioritize and coordinate a full spectrum of women’s health care needs, from puberty to postmenopause. She struck a chord among women experiencing Santa Barbara’s women’s health care, or lack thereof, and formed a Women’s Health Collective (WHC).
Alarm bells had been ringing about 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 connect directly with providers who specialize in pregnancy and delivery. Birth. This followed a decision by Cottage Hospital to reverse its ban on vaginal births after caesarean section (VBAC) and trial of labor after caesarean section (TOLOC). The inability to get around the ban, until recently, forced women who didn’t want another C-section 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 find facts and really assess what women are experiencing here so we can identify what works and what gaps exist,” said Dr. Mitchell.
The WHC plans to present the results of its community needs assessment to local health care leaders in hopes of gaining support and resources to make an effective change.
Because health care can be so personal, WHC will honor different perspectives and emotions tied to each experience.
“We want this forum to be a place where we can share our experiences, listen and validate concerns,” said Dr. Mitchell. “Our goal is to facilitate productive, fact-based conversations and bring together women from all professional and personal backgrounds in the community. This will be critical to creating meaningful change in our region.”
On Saturday, more than 100 women attended the first WHC meeting at an outdoor gym in Old Town Goleta. Attendees ranged widely in ages and backgrounds: USCB students, new mothers, women with children with disabilities, those facing menopause, older women, women’s health care providers, and mental health specialists. La Lieff wines were provided by Montecitan Gretchen Lieff.
Kathy Kelley, director of development for the Montessori Center School, facilitated the meeting. She divided us into 10 groups of approximately 15 women each. The discussions were amazing. Expectant mothers struggled to find dates and faced rejection for options like midwives or doulas. Significant childcare costs pushed some women to stay home, leading to terrible social isolation. Depression is a completely normal reaction, but it was difficult to access mental health care routes. Here there is no woman-centered care for every phase of life. Diseases that primarily affect women, such as thyroid, are treated with drugs and surgery, but identifying root causes is not a priority. Most prescription pharmaceutical dosages are formulated for 180-pound men. The fragmentation of care means that a woman may see between eight and ten different specialists, but there is no communication between them. Navigating insurance was also difficult, even for those with good insurance.
Highlights of the group’s findings
– There are significant challenges to accessing health care for women in Santa Barbara due to a lack of providers, limited availability, fragmented care, and poor insurance coverage.
– Reproductive options are at risk.
– These challenges are 10 times more difficult for vulnerable and underserved populations.
– Women need better representation in local health care leadership.
– We want woman-centered care that focuses on our unique needs throughout all phases of life.
Improving care for women will improve the health of our community:
– Women are the fundamental caregivers in society, driving the care and decisions of children, parents, partners and many others.
– Women take on the vast majority of the work of raising children in our community, and the care they receive impacts the health of the entire family.
The WHC plans to continue meeting to address these issues. If you are interested, please email SBWHC2022@gmail.com.
Sharon Byrne is the Executive Director of the Montecito Association