In 1908, Marian Watts – one of our country’s original visiting nurses – recruited a group of Santa Barbara women she described as “public spirited and farsighted” to build an organization with a philanthropic mission to serve the Santa Barbara community.
The innovation of Visiting Nurse Associations (VNAs) began in the 1880s in New York, where free nursing care was provided to those who otherwise could not afford it. After graduating from the first nursing class at Johns Hopkins University, Marian Watts continued the new trend of bringing care directly to the patient in need and began one of the first VNAs in Santa Barbara. With a small coalition of other women from Santa Barbara and Montecito, VNA of Santa Barbara began going to the home of patients who either physically could not make it to a hospital or simply could not afford the care they needed. In 1910, Marian purchased the organization’s first building on Haley Street (which still stands today) and even featured a “loan closet” with nursing supplies for caregivers and patients.
More than a century later and as vibrant as ever, VNA Health (formerly known as Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care) built by those pioneering women has outlasted every conceivable crisis: floods, fires, earthquakes, two world wars, and pandemics. Marian Watts began the necessary and compassionate care that Santa Barbara needed, and it has been sustained by VNA Health with continuous support from the community.