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New neonatal unit for Northwest BC will be life-changing for expectant mothers and newborns

Community support is essential to make the dream of the new NICU come true
Indigenous nations, staff and others in the community celebrate the building of a revolutionary NICU unit. Photo courtesy of Jeff Sodowsky

A groundbreaking project to bring care closer to home for women and newborns with preterm or high-risk births will be life-changing for families in and around Terrace and Northwest B.C.

Led by the R.E.M. Lee Hospital Foundation, the “Closer to Home” campaign is raising funds toward the $14.5 million to add a new, four-bed, Tier 3 neonatal intensive care nursery (NICU) for the Mills Memorial Hospital replacement project, where construction is underway to create a new state-of-the-art hospital at double the current capacity.

The new NICU means vulnerable babies and anxious mothers, predominantly from Indigenous communities, will have access in and near their own communities and families, instead of leaving to receive care in Vancouver or Prince George.

It will offer the most current models of care for all high-risk, expectant women who walk through their doors. The Mills Memorial Hospital is also doubling its size with construction for a 78-bed hospital.

Currently, women with higher-risk pregnancies typically have to fly to Vancouver or Prince George to receive care and prepare for preterm deliveries, while their spouses and families often must stay back to care for the rest of the family in an already anxiety-filled situation. More than 75,000 people, including 40,000 in 28 area First Nations communities will benefit from the improvements to newborn care. The facility will be able to care for births as early as 34 weeks in regular cases and 32 weeks in emergencies, rather than the current 37 weeks.

“Infants, newborns are in a tender state. To have them go through the ordeal of being flown to Vancouver on a place when they should be cuddling with their Mom is harsh on a little one,” notes Ron Bartlett, a longtime Chair of the Dr. R.E.M. Lee Hospital Foundation.

Fundraising is underway

Fundraising for the new NICU kicked off on June 3rd, 2023, in conjunction with the Kitsumkalum Walk for Health event. Local Indigenous nations impacted include the Haida, Haisla, Kitselas, Kitsumkalum, Nisga’a and Tahltan nations. Others include surrounding areas from Atlin to Dease Lake, East to Smithers and Houston, and West to Prince Rupert including Haida Gwaii.

“It was phenomenal to be there with the Kitsumkalum Nation, and to have one of the nations served in this catchment area of 250,000 hectares help us kick off this NICU campaign, and highlight these incredible partnerships among nations and communities,” reflects Jeff Sodowsky, the Vice President of Global Philanthropic Canada, who is spearheading this campaign with a cabinet of dedicated volunteers and First Nations leaders from several communities.

Dr. Greg Linton and his spruce-roots-style band Dr. Fishy are excited about fundraising for the REM Lee Hospital Foundation. Photo Courtesy of Jeff Sodowsky
Dr. Greg Linton and his spruce-roots-style band Dr. Fishy are excited about fundraising for the REM Lee Hospital Foundation. Photo Courtesy of Jeff Sodowsky

Even a doctor, Dr. Greg Linton, and his spruce-roots style band called Dr. Fishy, are getting involved with this effort!

“When we heard about this $14.5 million Closer To Home project, we knew that we had a long way to go. So we contributed the $1,400 we raised to this event,” says band leader Linton, who gathered a large crowd at his home for an August fundraiser.

Local industries have also stepped up in the fundraising for the NICU, with Newcrest Mining making one of the campaign’s first gifts, Sodowsky says, but emphasizes that just as it takes a village to raise a child, it also takes a community to build a special care nursery. All donations – large and small – are both welcome and needed in the community effort.

For more information and to support this crucial fundraising effort for the new NICU in Terrace, visit: