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On any given day there are two or three critically ill or injured children being treated in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at St. Vincent Healthcare, although that number can increase to seven on occasion.

Usually referred to as the PICU, it opened in 2009 as Montana's first and, still, only such unit staffed 24/7 with certified pediatric intensivists, who care for infants, children and teenagers whose conditions, illnesses or injuries need extra care and could be life threatening.

And while the PICU is meeting those patients' medical needs, St. Vincent is raising funds for a $2.3 million renovation that will update the unit and create more privacy for the children and families who use it.

"We definitely need to modernize the PICU," said Dr. Richard Salerno, a pediatric intensivist at the hospital. "This will help with concerns for family comfort and privacy, our workflow and things like nursing efficiency."

Aiding that effort will be this year's SAINTS Ball, the St. Vincent Healthcare Foundation's annual fundraising event, which will be held on Oct. 1 and aims to bring in about $1 million for the effort.

"We've had really great success in the past, and our most generous donors have really just come out and supported the cause, no matter what it is," said Dennis Sulser, foundation president and CEO. " ... We're going to have (the PICU) up to modern standards, with the capacity and the right space, as well as updated technologies."

The PICU was initially constructed in part with funds raised at the 2008 SAINTS Ball. It occupies a space within the hospital's pediatric care unit and features an open floor plan, serving about 250 patients annually.

According to St. Vincent, from then until 2015 the number of pediatric patients transferred to out-of-state hospitals dropped from 400 to 41.

Children and youth with a wide range of ailments — such as diabetes, pneumonia, viral infections, asthma and injuries from trauma — come from around the region to receive care from the hospital's pediatric intensivists and a nursing staff of 26.

While the children are there, their families also spend long hours by their sides, something that's an important duty for the staff and a major driving force in the new renovation plans.

"We enjoy taking care of them," said Melanie Walston, a registered nurse in the unit. "You don't just take care of the kids. You take care of their families, too."

With that in mind, the renovation will convert the PICU space into five individual rooms, allowing more privacy and personal space for families.

Salerno said having such a unit nearby means children and their families don't have to travel out of state to hospitals in Colorado or Utah for some specialized or intensive care and that the remodel could help them all feel more comfortable.

"It means kids with what can be routine problems aren't having to go to those places, Denver or Salt Lake City," he said. "For a lot of our families, that can be a big hardship. ... You just can't put a value on keeping people either home or close to home."

The PICU also hosts nursing and medical students on rotations, as well as area medical residents, as part of its educational efforts.

The new design was created with input from and consultation of Salerno, other doctors and the nursing staff to create a space that meets their needs and those of their patients.

Sulser said that "a good portion" of the $2.3 million has been raised already. Work is expected to begin in October, after the fundraiser, he said. If the SAINTS Ball reaches its $1 million fundraising goal, those funds "would almost close out" the campaign, he said.

The title for this year's ball is Go Wild for Kids and features a zoo theme. 

Lining up with the theme is a new educational partnership the hospital has formed with ZooMontana and the San Diego Zoo that, among other things, will bring a team in September to kick off a zoo channel that will be available to every patient in the hospital via its closed-circuit television network.

Sulser noted that the fundraiser is a longstanding tradition with the hospital and that it has for more than 100 years connected with philanthropic locals and businesses to improve its care.

"We're celebrating those kinds of things on this evening," he said. "We continue our efforts because of the generous efforts of the people in our community, and those who came before us."