Tri-County COVID site not designated for alternate care, but Appleton prison will remain equipped for now

The five health centers that developed the Tri-County COVID Medical Center announced they have been notified that the state is not designating it as an alternate care site. The partners are leaving the site equipped for the time being in case it is needed.

The five health centers that developed the Tri-County COVID Medical Center in the former Appleton prison have been notified that the site is not designated as an alternate care site. The regional health centers have developed 11 hospital beds in the Prairie Correctional Facility County and will leave the beds and equipment in place. County officials tour the Prairie Correctional Facility in this file photo. Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune file photo

APPLETON — The five health care organizations that developed the Tri-County COVID Medical Center in the former prison in Appleton received official notification that it was not being selected as an alternate care site.

The organizations issued a news release Monday stating that the center developed in the vacant Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton was not selected as a site for Minnesota’s Southwest region. They had been notified verbally in mid-April of the decision.

They are leaving the site equipped in case it is needed. The five health organizations do not intend to remove the hospital beds and equipment installed in it at this time, according to Angel Molden, public information officer for Appleton Area Health Services. “Due to the work that has been completed, (Tri-County COVID Medical Center) remains an additional resource for the region, if the need arises,” stated the release.

Molden said owner CoreCivic continues to provide 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 recent decision means the county funds will not be utilized, according to the news release.


The five health centers had equipped the former prison with expectations it could hold its first patients at the start of this month. It was prepared to open with 11 beds and with staffing from the five health centers. The original plans called for the possibility of equipping the facility with up to 88 beds if needed. The plans were drafted to prepare for the possibility of serving 559 COVID-19 patients over the course of 55 days.

The state plans to use hospitals to care for both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 patients until they reach maximum capacity. The alternate care sites will only be used if hospitals need to free up space for critical care, according to Amber Schindelecker, public information officer with the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

“Minnesota has systems in place to maximize the use of beds and spaces in hospitals, including more than doubling the intensive care capacity and adding beds in non-patient care areas at hospitals and medical facilities,” Schindelecker told the West Central Tribune in an email. “Expansion capacity within hospitals must be used first. Only then will hospitals work with patients to safely transfer them to an alternate care site so hospitals can treat COVID-19 patients.”

An alternate care site working group has identified sites with the capacity to provide 2,750 beds, according to Schindelecker. The goal was to identify 250 beds each within seven out-state regions and 1,000 beds in the metropolitan area.

At this point, only one alternate care site has been publicly identified. It is Presbyterian Homes-Langton Place in Roseville. It will be used by the state working group to practice its procedures to stand up this location as a proof of concept. There is no immediate need for the site and it will not be used unless absolutely necessary, according to the information from the Department of Public Safety.

The working group vetted each facility proposed as a site,using feedback from regional health care preparedness coordinators and local emergency managers, according to Schindelecker.

According to Schindelecker, the state alternate care site working group used specific criteria to identify a number of facilities across Minnesota that would work best for patient care. Considerations included:

  • The scope of work and the time needed to activate an alternate care site.

  • The number of beds at that site.

  • The nursing care layout of the facility.

  • The proximity to the nearest hospital.

  • The ability to upgrade to acute COVID-19 care.

  • The ability to house providers and staff.

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


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