HAMILTON, Mont. -

Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital in Hamilton broke ground on a multi-million dollar intensive care unit.

Project backers said the hospital had no choice. There are too many people who need intensive care, and not enough beds to care for them.

The current intensive care unit was built in 1975.

If you're wondering why build more in Hamilton, and not ship patients to centers in Missoula, consider these statistics from Marcus Daly.

In 2010, the unit served 169 patients. Two years later, the number almost doubled to 320, and it's expected to double again next year.

Emergency patients who check into its near-new emergency department could find one-stop local care once the new ICU is up and running.

Hospital and community leaders dug into hard winter ground with ceremonial shovels. Despite cold weather, crews should start construction early in December.

The community has raised about half the $3.2 million, including an $800,000 anonymous donation, with a matching challenge.

The hospital needs to raise $1.4 million to complete the project.

Donors have 3 years to pay their pledges.

"The hospital's plans are to borrow the money," said fund-raising chair Sonny LaSalle, "then to pay back over a 3-year period, as the investments come in."

Marcus Daly used to transfer many of its critical care patients to Missoula. Chief executive officer John Bartos said since the hospital added more specialized staff, more intensive care patients and their families can be served right here.

"Where we used to have one patient in the ICU," said CEO Bartos, "now we have two or three."

The ICU could have critically sick men or women in the same room at the same time.

Registered nurse Jenna Hendrickson works in intensive care. She said on a busy work day it can get really cramped.

Not long ago, her own large family crowded into the ICU, where her grandfather was dying.

"He's passing and we're trying to hold ourselves together," said the nurse, "when I know these are really sick people on each side of him. So I've been on both sides."

The new ICU could be completed as early as September 2014.