APPLETON — While rising numbers of COVID-19 cases have squeezed the capacity of the state's health care providers, there have been no discussions about reviving an earlier proposal to convert a portion of the vacant Prairie Correctional Facility to care for patients.

Five health care organizations developed a proposal earlier this year to develop a Tri-County COVID Medical Center in the former prison in Appleton.

The health care organizations received official notification in May that it was not selected as an alternate care site.

In response to an inquiry from the West Central Tribune, Brian Lovdahl, CEO of CCM Health, said there have been no discussions about reviving the proposal. Absent state approval of the site, the health care centers would not be able to license it, he explained in an email.

The five health organizations had installed some hospital beds and equipment last spring in expectations of using the facility to serve COVID-19 patients.

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CoreCivic, owner of the vacant facility, offered the use of the facility to the five health centers at no cost. It maintains the 1,600-bed prison ready for use, but it has not held inmates since 2010.

The five health centers serving Chippewa, Lac qui Parle and Swift counties had obtained commitments from the three counties for a total of $1 million in financing for the Tri-County COVID Medical Center's operations if needed.

The five health centers were prepared to open the facility in the spring with 11 beds. The original plans called for the possibility of equipping the facility with up to 88 beds if needed.

The state announced in May it was intending to maximize the use of beds and spaces in hospitals. An alternate care site working group identified sites with the capacity to provide 2,750 additional beds if needed, but did not include the Appleton site as among them.

The five partners that developed the Appleton site are Appleton Area Health, Appleton; CCM Health, Montevideo; Johnson Memorial Health Services, Dawson; Madison Healthcare Services, Madison; and Swift County Benson Health Services, Benson.