By Pamela Dozois

Contributing Writer

Buellton Medical Center has been serving the Santa Ynez Valley since 2008, and this spring it celebrated its 10th year of service to valley residents and visitors alike.

Myra Howard, F.N.P. (family nurse practitioner) and the owner of the center, has been a nurse practitioner for 27 years. She has been in nursing for 42 years and has been an associate professor at UCLA for the past 26 years.

“In 1997, I joined the Buellton Medical Clinic, which was owned by Dr. Scott Saunders and Dr. Wolfgang Hallauer, who I knew well,” said Howard. “I suggested they needed a female provider and came on board. There were three providers, three exam rooms, and a small staff that worked limited hours. Dr. Saunders moved to Santa Barbara and after 11 years Dr. Hallauer was ready to retire, and I felt passionate about the need to keep the clinic open.”

Howard said she had no clue about running a business but she had good advice from a nurse practitioner friend of hers who was also a lawyer. She knew she wanted to keep the clinic open because it gave her the opportunity to use all of her skills and to provide the valley with something it didn’t have, as there were very few primary care providers at the time.

“We were serving a minimum of 700 people each month, and if we closed the doors I worried where all these patients would go,” she said.

She had to jump through a mind-boggling number of legal and non-medical hoops to become the owner of the medical center, she said.

“In California, a nurse practitioner cannot own a medical practice so I had to find two physicians willing to be part of my medical corporation, though I was taking all the financial risk,” Howard said. “The community doesn’t know what a tightrope I walk to keep this center open because of the complicated nature of the legislative process in California, which we hope to see changed in the near future. This issue is still being debated at the state level. Twenty-one states have already moved to legalize ‘independent practice’ for nurse practitioners. Why is California so behind the times, is the question.”

Having successfully navigated the legalities involved, Howard changed the name to Buellton Medical Center knowing that she wanted to add additional services to assist the community.

“We moved into our present location at 195 W.  Hwy 246 in 2012. My husband, Larry Cochran, is a general contractor so we designed and built the interior, increasing the number of exam rooms to seven, including a minor-surgery suite; a private quiet office for our licensed professional clinical counselor, Lois Craig; a nursing station; and provider offices. We incorporated a real reception area and we also added a conference room for medical lectures, which can also be used by local agencies for meetings,” said Howard.

“Though running a business is never easy, I have been blessed with the absolute best staff over the past 10 years,” she added. “Everyone is very dedicated. Our medical providers rotate through the schedule so that we can keep our doors open, even on most holidays.

“Along with our family practice provider (Dr. Van Valin), our internal medicine consultant (Dr. Svedlow) and medical consultant (Dr. Morf), we have a pediatric NP (Colleen Cianciarulo), a woman’s health NP (Sarah Rasmussen), an adult NP (Richard G. Scott), a family NP (Kristi King), two nurse practitioners, Carol Houston and Sherrie Gibbs, and a registered dietitian, Caitlan Johnson.”

Administrative staff includes Office Manager Maria Hernandez with Jazmin Perez and Angelica Tolento.

“I love what I do – challenges and all. The drive up from Santa Barbara is beautiful and when I get here I am ready to go. We are glad to be here for the local community of all ages and out of town visitors.

The Buellton Medical Center is at 195 W. Hwy. 246 in Buellton. For more information, call 805-686-8555, visit or email​.