PRINCE ALBERT -- The Prince Albert Victoria Hospital is set to have an expanded neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) by July 2021.

The Victoria Hospital Foundation is funding the roughly $2 million project with money from its Give A Little Life Day campaign in 2018. This year’s radiothon will take place on Dec. 4 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. to raise money to equip and furnish the space.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority has chosen Saskatoon-based Quorex Construction Services Ltd. after a request for proposals. Construction is expected to start next week.

The current NICU can only hold four babies at one time, but it often holds more than its capacity. The 357-square-foot space isn’t enough for the amount of newborns requiring care from Prince Albert and the north, according to the Victoria Hospital Foundation.

The expanded unit will be able to hold up to 11 sick babies and their families.

Marianne Turcotte has experienced what it’s like to be away from home with a baby in intensive care.

Turcotte’s water broke when she was 28 weeks pregnant and she was admitted to a hospital in Saskatoon. She gave birth there to her daughter, Addie, in April.

Addie weighed 3 pounds two ounces and stayed in the hospital for 47 days, 10 of which were in the Prince Albert NICU.

“It’s imperative that we have these facilities right here in our home communities,” she said, adding that new furniture and equipment is “more than a want.”

“I know that sometimes our mind goes to ‘Maybe what we have is good enough.’ The chairs are very tattered, they’re literally held together with medical tape. It would be great when you’re trying to establish breastfeeding that you have a chair that would be comfortable to sit in, to be able to nurture your child in.”

Turcotte said the staff were knowledgeable and caring, but it was apparent that the space they were working in was too small.

"I remember the first day we came in, there weren't a tremendous amount of little ones in the NICU, but in the blink of an eye, we would be shifted around the room and there would be eight other families in there,” she said.

About a year before finding out she was pregnant with Addie, Turcotte lost a baby girl eight weeks before her due date.

Victoria Hospital Foundation CEO Sherry Buckler said the NICU is a $5 million campaign, done in two stages.

“Critical decisions require critical equipment,” said Victoria Hospital Foundation CEO Sherry Buckler about this year’s fundraiser.

“The equipment we presently have is out of date, a lot of it is end of life and we don’t have enough, actually, to take care of 11 babies.”

Earlier this year, the province announced that the entire hospital will be expanded. According to a news release, the expanded NICU will be “flexible and adaptable” for the upgraded Victoria Hospital.