When the Victoria Hospital Foundation (VHF) launched its campaign to build a new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) in September, they expected it would take three years to reach their goal.
It took just six months.
Thursday, the foundation announced the conclusion of the campaign, with the Malhotra family contributing $800,000 to push the project to its $2.2 million target.
The campaign raised over $1 million in a single day on Dec. 7, 2018, when the annual Give a Little Life Day radiothon brought in a record amount of funds. The giving continued into January, with community groups gathering hundreds of thousands of dollars, pushing the total to $1.4 million.
With the target now reached, work will begin as soon as possible to bring a new, expanded NICU to Prince Albert.
“I cannot think of a better way to celebrate Valentine’s Day than to celebrate this, your giving for our Victoria Hospital NICU campaign,” VHF chair Lyle Karasiuk said.
“This NICU campaign is the largest, single campaign the Victoria Hospital Foundation has ever undertaken. Some of you may have thought it would take us years to make this happen. But with our donors, we were tremendously successful.”
Obstetrician Dr. Lalita Malhotra said she made the donation in memory of her late husband, Tilak. Arriving in 1975, he was the first and only pediatrician in the Prince Albert community for almost 20 years. He died in July 2017.
Between the two of them, the Malhotras have delivered and cared for thousands of infants in Prince Albert and across northern Saskatchewan.
“It’s a very emotional day,” Dr. Lalita Malhotra said.
“Prince Albert has been home for us for 42 years, and my husband was always a person who supported the community. He encouraged me to always do everything for the community. This, I thought, was a very big thing which he would have liked to have done, so that’s what I did.”
Following the announcement, Malhotra was embraced by doctors, nurses and other members of the obstetrics and neonatal staff. She and others teared up as they spoke about what a new NICU would mean for the local community.
“The staff has been my family all my life. You couldn’t have believed after my husband passed away, how much support I had from the hospital staff,” Malhotra said.
“They are family for me. When I come to the hospital, I feel like I’ve come to my family. The hospital staff care so much for me, everyone from top to bottom. Maternity … has been a part of my life and it will always be part of my life.”
The new NICU will help to ease the pressure on the current staff and space. The current unit is just 375 square feet and located in an old surgical closet. It’s routinely at double its capacity, if not fuller. The confined quarters make it hard on newborns and their mothers who have little privacy and, at times, need to be separated so staff can properly care for the sick and premature infants in their care.
“We deliver about 1,500 babies every year at this hospital, and those babies and their families come from all over northern Saskatchewan and Prince Albert,” said Carol Gregoryk, the Saskatchewan Health Authority executive director of acute care for the northeast.
“The funds raised will make a better life for mothers, fathers and babies, including their families who we will now have actual room for, and who need that specialized care. This dedicated space will … give them more appropriate space that is safer, private and more comfortable.
“To say we’re in a bit of a state of shock is an understatement. It’s an honour to be here today. We look forward to working together as we start to transform the care of mothers and babies.”
In her five years with the VHF, executive director Sherry Buckler had never seen anything like this.
“It’s amazing,” she said.
‘When we launched this campaign we were very realistic We said this was going to be a multi-year campaign. Going into it, it was the biggest thing we’d ever done before.”
Buckler said it’s thanks to the Prince Albert community, from individual children to large organizations, and of course, the Malhotra family, that the foundation was able to reach its $2.2 million goal in just six months.
Seeing the Malhotra family give generously, she said, was especially moving.
“You saw today the history that family has had in our community and our hospital, 42 years delivering babies and caring for the children as they grew while raising their own family at the same time,” she said.
“This gift was more meaningful than anything you could possibly imagine. You saw all the tears and hugs. It was all very meaningful to us.”
There is no timeline for when the new NICU will be ready to go, but Buckler said work with the SHA on construction timelines and project approvals will take place very quickly.
Now, with fundraising for the NICU complete, the VHF will turn to the next item on its list.
“I think we all know that our hospital needs help in every area,” Buckler said.
“We support mental health. We support long-term care. We support intensive care. There’s never going to be an opportunity where we can say ‘we’re done.’’ There is always an area of this hospital that we’re willing to step behind and help.
“As long as there is a need, we will be here.”