Shuttered private prison turned into COVID-19 health center in west-central Minnesota

Workers painted rooms a bright green, set up oxygen tanks and moved beds into cells at the shuttered Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton, Minnesota, in anticipation of treating COVID-19 patients.

CCM Health in Montevideo is leading the project to open 11 beds by Monday with the capacity to increase to 88 beds at the former prison.

"There’s a lot of moving pieces right now, so far it’s going very smooth," said CEO Brian Lovdahl of CCM Health who is helping lead the project. "We came to the realization that we if we pooled our resources we raised that bar."

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In Chippewa, Lac Qui Parle and Swift counties there are around 30,000 residents but only 100 hospital beds with only three intensive care beds at five facilities, according to Lovdahl, and that’s why they are opening a special COVID-19 center.

Extra beds, oxygen and other equipment were being moved into the Appleton prison to prepare for possible patients on Tuesday.

The hospitals asked the counties they serve to help with expenses earlier this week.

Chippewa County was one of the counties that gave the project a $425,000 interest-free loan.

"It just makes sense to try and figure out a way we can protect the people as best we can,” said Matt Gilbertson, Chippewa County Commissioner. “If somebody is infected with the virus they have a good place to go and they don’t bottleneck our hospitals."

CCM Health said that staffing will be an issue if there is a surge of patients at the facility, which is why they are hiring registered nurses.

They set up a special email for nurses to apply:

There are 10 ventilators available along with anesthesia machines that can be used to help those struggling to breathe, according to CCM Health. They also continue to look for more devices.

Possible COVID-19 patients will still be screened at area hospitals before going to the facility.

The facility hopes to open next week pending appropriate licensing of the facility from the state.

Minnesota Department of Health map of COVID-19 shows just one case so far in the region that will be served by this new facility.