Western Minnesota health care providers eye former prison for COVID-19 care facility

An empty, privately-owned prison
Five health-care providers in western Minnesota's Swift, Chippewa and Lac qui Parle counties are joining forces to set up at least a dozen hospital rooms in the former Prairie Correctional Facility. They're getting backing from the three counties.
Mark Steil | MPR News 2015

A private prison in western Minnesota that closed a decade ago is slated to reopen as a COVID-19 care center.

Five health care providers in western Minnesota's Swift, Chippewa and Lac qui Parle counties are joining forces to set up at least a dozen hospital rooms in the former Prairie Correctional Facility. They're getting backing from the three counties.

Appleton Area Health CEO Lori Andreas said they all knew they would need more capacity if COVID-19 cases surge.

"For us, especially out here in rural (Minnesota), we have a higher-than-normal elderly population and it was definitely a large priority for us to make sure that we're able to provide the care that our patients are going to need in case of a surge," she said.

The other providers involved are CCM Health in Montevideo, Johnson Memorial Health Services in Dawson, Madison Healthcare Services in Madison, and Swift County-Benson Health Services in Benson.

Andreas said the facilities are pooling scarce medical resources and scrambling to get the overflow hospital, known as the Tri-County COVID Medical Center, open by the end of March. In a news release, the providers said the prison “has robust medical and sanitation facilities, its design allows us to triage patients, and it is turnkey.”

The Swift County Monitor reported that the $1 million plan for the medical center was put forward at an emergency meeting of the Swift County Board of Commissioners on Friday, and was expected to get funding votes in all three counties next week.

The 1,600-bed facility in Appleton has been empty since 2010. Andreas could expand to 77 beds if needed.

Tennessee-based CoreCivic said in a statement it would provide the facility at no cost, meaning the company will get no financial benefit.

“This is an extraordinary time in the history of our country when the public and private sectors need to work together to find innovative ways to solve the most urgent problems we face," CoreCivic President and CEO Damon Hininger said in the statement. "We see our role as supporting our government partners and the communities we together serve in any way we can.”

The medical facility would be staffed by health care workers. Some CoreCivic employees would maintain the building.

Andreas said the health care providers are working together to find the best approach to treat patients in their region.

"We want to take care of people and provide the best care we can, and we feel like this is a very good option," she said.


COVID-19 in Minnesota

Health officials for weeks have been increasingly raising the alarm over the spread of the novel coronavirus in the United States. The disease is transmitted through respiratory droplets, coughs and sneezes, similar to the way the flu can spread.

Government and medical leaders are urging people to wash their hands frequently and well, refrain from touching their faces, cover their coughs, disinfect surfaces and avoid large crowds, all in an effort to curb the virus’ rapid spread.

The state of Minnesota has temporarily closed schools, while administrators work to determine next steps, and is requiring a temporary closure of all in-person dining at restaurants, bars and coffee shops, as well as theaters, gyms, yoga studios and other spaces in which people congregate in close proximity.

Map: Confirmed cases across the state

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