SUDBURY -- The pandemic has caused major delays for construction projects, and the emergency room expansion at Manitoulin Health Centre in Mindemoya is no exception.

The project was originally to start this past spring and be complete by December 2021. But now construction is expected to wrap up next summer.

The delay has also led to changes in design. Instead of one negative pressure room, there will now be three. These are rooms that are safe to care for COVID patients/respiratory illness because the air does not circulate throughout the facility.

“Improved airflow to help for a consideration of future respiratory outbreaks -- and that even includes people with serious pneumonias or during flu season -- anything where we’ve got a little more space and better airflow, obviously, is good for our patients,” said Dr. Maurianne Reade, who is a physician at Manitoulin Health Centre's Mindemoya site.

The 2,700 square-foot-extension will also feature a better line of sight to patient areas from the nursing station, a larger chemotherapy suite, greater confidentiality during visits and a dedicated mental health observation area.

“We will be having a safe room for mental health patients for that extra level of protection for people," Reade said.

"The pandemic has certainly accelerated or highlighted the need as we see that second wave of a pandemic of mental health issues.”

Officials with the hospital said Manitoulin Health Centre has one of the highest rates in the north of people arriving at the ER with mental health challenges.

In all, $1.75 million has already been raised, but more money is needed in order to complete the project.

'Let’s Emerg Together' is the name of the campaign launched Monday; progress will be displayed through a thermometer created by local Ojibwe artist Kathryn Corbiere, owner of One Kwe.

“We’ve had very generous gifts from First Nations, from municipalities and groups and so we are getting there but there is a gap still,” said Angela Becks, fundraising chair.

A total of $2.5 million needs to be raised with the hospital to cover the costs for the rest of the project.