New Group Finds Women Face Obstacles Obtaining Comprehensive Health Care in Santa Barbara County | Your Health

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Drawn by a shared interest in improving local women’s healthcare, more than 100 community members and leaders attended the inaugural Santa Barbara Women’s Health Coalition (SBWHC) meeting in October.

Hosted by Dr. Katrina Mitchell, a local breast surgeon, lactation consultant, and perinatal mental health provider; and Kathy Kelley, development director at Montessori Center School, the group arrived at several key takeaways.

Most notable was that women are experiencing significant challenges accessing comprehensive healthcare in Santa Barbara County. 

SBWHC seeks to drive healthcare innovation focused on the unique needs of women throughout all phases of life.

With physicians and other women’s healthcare professionals in attendance, it was apparent healthcare challenges impact both patients and providers. Thus, a critical objective of the SBWHC is to develop a space for women in both of these arenas to feel heard, seen, supported and safe.

Since the meeting, SBWHC has established committee working groups that are tasked with conducting a community needs assessment focused on the following areas of women’s health: Adolescence through Young Adults, Chronic Health Conditions, Health Equity and Racial Health Disparities, LGBTQ+ Health, Maternal Health, and Menopause and Aging.

SBWHC will then present its findings to local organizations and discuss shared opportunities to improve women’s health in the Santa Barbara community.

“Women are the foundational caregivers in our society, driving medical decisions for children, parents, partners, and countless others. It is important to investigate and address challenges to  accessing and providing comprehensive and equitable care for the unique needs of women in our community,” said Dr. Mitchell.

The SBWHC has named the following committee chairs, whose roles will be to drive focused discussion and the completion of the needs assessment in their assigned area of women’s health. Those interested in joining a committee can contact [email protected].

Ashley Hollister

Adolescence through Young Adults Committee: Ashley Hollister

Hollister is the COO at DeftEdge, a consulting firm that helps governments, multilateral institutions, nonprofits and businesses improve effectiveness through institutional reform.

As an international development professional, she has worked to build the capacity of organizations and programs in East Africa, Latin America and East Asia to target and achieve social objectives around education, market inclusion for women, youth and refugees, and preventing and responding to gender-based violence.

As a trained social worker, she has worked in New York and Michigan as a counselor and advocate for child and adolescent mental health and youth violence prevention programs.

Kari Robinson

Chronic Health Conditions Committee: Kari Robinson

Robinson works at UCSB as the Associate Director of Legal and Medical Humanities, initiatives that seek to train students aspiring toward careers in law and medicine. For her graduate studies, Kari conducted research in Berlin on abortion pregnancy counseling at women’s health centers that also offered expansive care. Kari’s eldest son had chronic health conditions throughout childhood, which together with her own experience navigating breast cancer, motivated her commitment to leading the Chronic Health Conditions Committee.

Emma Schuster
Megan Spencer

Health Equity and Racial Health Disparities Committee: Megan Spencer and Emma Schuster

Spencer and Schuster are both moms and Ph.D students in feminist studies at UCSB.

Spencer studies and teaches about black feminism and environmental politics.

Schuster’s research focuses on reproductive justice and disability. 

Cherise Lastra

 LGBTQ+ Health Committee Chair: Cherise Lastra

Lastra is the clinical research supervisor at Ridley-Tree Cancer Center. She works closely with the research team, oncologists and other clinical staff to conduct safe and compliant clinical research.

She is passionate about collaborating with the community to improve how we serve women’s healthcare needs.

Lastra was born and raised in Santa Barbara and currently lives in the Santa Ynez Valley with her family.

Caitlin Jennings 

Maternal Health Committee: Caitlin Jennings 

Jennings works remotely for Instacart as senior program manager, recently launching Instacart Health.

She is ardent about support for all mothers, especially with regard to their mental health. Jennings plans to use her background in program management to guide the maternal health committee through productive discussion and research.

Menopause and Aging Committee: Kathy Kelley, Sharon Byrne, Dr. Marie Claire Lamb

Kelley is the director of development and alumni relations at Montessori Center School.

Dr. Marie Claire Lamb
Sharon Byrne
Kathy Kelley

Byrne has a consulting practice in community organizing and political messaging, and participates as a delegate for the UN Conference on the Status of Women.

Dr. Lamb is an internal medicine physician at Sansum Clinic.

The women’s collective backgrounds and expertise lends unique insight and advocacy to the needs of women during menopause and beyond.

For more information about the SBWHC, visit or contact [email protected]

The Women’s Health Coalition brings together advocates, entrepreneurs, clinicians, researchers, lawyers, healthcare professionals, and community members with the shared goal of advancing the quality and outcomes of women’s healthcare in Santa Barbara County.

The SBWHC objectives are to create a public forum for focused dialogue and research; conduct a community needs assessment; and present these findings to local healthcare leaders.

Ultimately, SBWHC intends to develop  a strategic plan for a local facility that utilizes the latest technology and models standards of care for all facets of women’s health.

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