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Sharon Goodison says women's health is her passion.

She believes that while each woman is an individual with her own needs, "there's a real camaraderie with all women because . . . there are so many things that we as women go through in our life span that are so unique to women and that a number of women experience. I just love women's health."

It was that, along with her long list of professional credentials in the field, that led Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center to select Goodison to head up its new women's health initiative announced in December.

"I think Memorial looked at Sharon's qualifications and while they are clinically second to none her outreach efforts and community connections in Erie County were very important to us because we look for her to repeat those efforts here in our community," said Patricia E. Berggren.

Berggren is president of the Medical Center Foundation and is spearheading a campaign to raise $750,000 to renovate two floors of the Medical Center's Hodge Building. One floor of the new women's center will be devoted to obstetrics and gynecology. The other will house a community education room, a computerized learning center and massage therapy suites.

"What attracted me to this position was the development of the Mary Dyster Women's Pavilion and the reaching out to the community and the promotion of health for women in the community. And, the remodeling and the development of the entire center was very appealing to me and challenging," said Goodison.

The unit is named for the late Mary C. Dyster, a local nurse, in recognition of her decades of work on behalf of women and children. She was a founding member of the Center for Young Parents.

Goodison, who started her new job on Jan. 15, was director of Women's Services for Kaleida Health System's North Region. She also has held administrative positions in women's and children's services at Children's Hospital of Buffalo. She started out as a staff nurse in high-risk obstetrics at Children's then moved into management. She obtained a master's degree in the University at Buffalo's Maternal and Women's Health Graduate Nurse Program four years ago. Currently she is studying for a master's of business administration at Medaille College.

She embraces a holistic approach that encompasses body, mind and spirit based on the recognition that there is more to women than their reproductive capabilities. That jells perfectly with the philosophy of Memorial's women's health initiative, which last month opened a monthly series of free educational programs that will tackle topics such as osteoporosis, menopause, depression, plastic surgery, headaches and pain management.

This month's topic, "You've Gotta Have Heart" will look at the No. 1 health risk for women in a discussion of symptoms, treatment and prevention through a healthy lifestyle. The event is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Feb. 13 in the Medical Center's auditorium. To register, call 278-4747.

"There are a lot of things planned, but we are definitely not just looking at the childbearing years. We're looking at the life span of the woman," Goodison said.

Of course, childbearing is a major part of women's health care, and Goodison hopes to become involved in the Task Force on Infant Mortality and work on ways to encourage young women to obtain prenatal care.

"As leaders of health care in the community, we feel it's very important that we take the lead especially with issues such as the high infant mortality rate. There are a number of low-income women in the area. They traditionally have poorer health, and we really want to be out there and give them the tools that they need for health promotion and prevention of disease," she said.

"We want to kind of walk through the rest of your life with you through a variety of different program efforts," said Berggren, who believes the approach has grabbed the attention of donors.

The foundation's donor base increased 30 percent in December. Fund raising is going so well that the foundation believes what was begun as a two-year campaign may well reach its goal in 12 to 18 months. Gutting of the second floor of the Hodge Building began last week, and the pavilion is to be completed by September.

To create a related but separate identity for the program, the face of a woman was added to the stylized waterfalls of Memorial's logo, with the falls becoming her hair. Berggren, the marketer, envisions the logo emblazoned on all sorts of items such as T-shirts, caps and jogging shorts that will be given to women in exercise classes. Goodison hopes the program will have its own newsletter.

"We're looking at it from the perspective that women are traditionally the decision-makers in the family for their health care and they often neglect their own health care because they're so busy taking care of their families," Goodison said.

"Women very often take care of other people in their families and their lives and don't take care of themselves," Berggren said. "I think women of our generation are a prime example of that because they're taking care of older parents. They're also taking care of children. And all of a sudden our health is, we don't feel like we did when we were 20 years old. It would be easy for our health needs to slip through the cracks, and I think that's why we've taken this intergenerational spin on this whole program."

In other health care news around the county:

Providing caregivers with a break and providing care and socialization for adults who are chronically ill or physically or mentally impaired is the mission of DeGraff Adult Day Care. And with the receipt of a $60,000 grant from the New York State Office for the Aging, the service will become more affordable for many who have not been able to take advantage of it because of cost, according to Marlene Marciniak, director.

The funding is being used to subsidize half of either the care or transportation costs for residents of the county who are 60 years or older who are not receiving Medicaid and who meet eligibility criteria for this new assistance. The full cost, without the subsidy, is $40 for a nine-hour day and $25 for a half day. Transportation costs vary depending on distance.

Marciniak said DeGraff Adult Day Care provides meals, personal care, socialization, supervision and support for clients. For families, it provides respite, education and support. The day care offers a free trial day to perspective clients.

The day care is located in the Family Health Center, 82 Mead St., North Tonawanda. For more information about adult day care or eligibility for funding, call 694-7662.

Diana Volkman of the Niagara County Health Department said the department is receiving a new supply of flu vaccine from the state to be distributed to agencies, including nursing homes, hospitals and private physicians. Medical providers in need of the vaccine should contact the department at 743-4432.

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