Celebrating 25 Years


It was 25 years ago — December 20, 1987 — that the first neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) opened in Santa Barbara County. And that new service opened a day ahead of schedule to accommodate a tiny newborn from Ojai in need of specialized care.


Today that little newborn is an adult, and more than 8,200 other infants from Atascadero to Thousand Oaks have been cared for in the region’s only Level III NICU, a level that reflects the availability of board-certified pediatric surgeons, anesthesiologists and other pediatric sub-specialists.

Dr. Steven Barkley, NICU Medical Director

Demand for the original 8-bed unit exceeded original expectations, quickly outgrowing the space and requiring a move into a much larger new 22-bed unit in 1996.


Now, more than two decades later, plans are in place to relocate the NICU adjacent to the Birth Center in the new Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, with other specialized pediatric services nearby. This consolidation of all children’s services on the third floor of the new hospital will mean greater efficiency and improved continuity of care, along with less moving and disruption of patients and families.


The NICU team is a strong one, closely connected to the families in our community. The unit has retained a talented physician staff since its inception, with its first medical director, Dr. Steven Barkley (pictured at the NICU reunion event), still at the helm and joined by long-time neonatologists Dr. Barbara Donnelly (associate medical director) and Dr. Theresa Lueck. Together with the unit’s specially trained nurses, respiratory therapists and support staff, they provide 24-hour care for infants in need — about half of them born prematurely, with others developing complications upon delivery.


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