Patients at Bethesda Hospital to be transferred, building could be leased for homeless shelter

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Dozens of hospitalized COVID-19 patients receiving care at Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul will be transferred to St. Joseph’s Hospital in the next few weeks, as part of a system-wide restructuring at Fairview Health Services.

Bethesda was transformed into a COVID-19 hospital in March and is currently the only hospital in Minnesota that exclusively cares for COVID-19 patients.

Fairview said they plan to lease the hospital building to Ramsey County to be used as a homeless shelter this winter.

"We figured it would close, but not this soon and not for a homeless shelter," said Cindy Machgan, a nutrition service aide at Bethesda. "We figured it would stay ‘COVID’ until there’s a cure."

Machgan said she has worked at the hospital for 22 years and is concerned about the status of her job. Fairview announced 900 layoffs as part of the hospital system’s changes but did not specify which jobs would be eliminated.

"It’s crazy. It’s depressing. Where do you go, you know, after this long," Machgan said. "I have bills to pay. I need that paycheck and need the job."

With losses of $163M in 6 months, Fairview to eliminate 900 jobs, make hospital changes

A hospital spokesperson said Bethesda can serve up to 90 COVID-19 patients at a time and has fluctuated between 40-70% capacity since the peak of the pandemic in May. The hospital is currently at 50% capacity.

Fairview said COVID-19 patients at Bethesda will be transferred to St. Joseph’s Hospital starting in mid-October. COVID-19 care will continue at St. Joseph’s "through 2021 or as long as community need requires it." St. Joseph’s will also have capacity for 90 patients and operate with the "same model and staff" as Bethesda.

Fairview said if there is a surge in COVID-19 cases, Southdale Hospital will be used as a backup care site.

Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said health officials are monitoring the developments but are not currently concerned about the number of beds available for COVID-19 care.

"The important thing is capacity continues to exist in the system," Malcolm said. "And the excellent learning and great outcomes they have seen will spread throughout system."

Fairview said, if the Ramsey County Board approves the lease agreement, the new homeless shelter could house up to 100 people at a time, but the specifics of the new shelter will be determined by the county.

A spokesperson for Ramsey County told 5 EYEWITNESS News that lease negotiations with Fairview have begun. The first public discussion will happen during a board meeting Tuesday morning. The earliest the board would vote on the matter would be Oct. 13.