APPLETON — Five health care centers in Chippewa, Lac qui Parle and Swift counties are postponing the opening of the Tri-County COVID Medical Center in the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton.

The health centers announced Friday that they were notified by the State Health Care Coordination Center that they will need to postpone its opening until there is a determination that the facility has been selected by the Minnesota Department of Health as the alternative care site for the state’s southwest region.

The health care facilities had intended to have the center ready for its first patients on Monday.

Brian Lovdahl, CEO of CCM Health in Montevideo, said the health care center as well as those in Madison and Dawson in Lac qui Parle County and in Appleton and Benson in Swift County have been working together to develop the facility to care for expected COVID-19 patients in the three counties.

They learned that they will need a license from the State Emergency Operations Center. The state is looking at opening an alternative care center in each of eight regions in the state.

He said engineers with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are expected to look over the facility in the coming week to help in that determination. Lovdahl said he is confident that the state will designate the Tri-County COVID Health Center as the alternative care center for the southwest region.

The five health centers have already equipped 11 beds for patients at the facility. “We’ve essentially built a hospital in nine days,” Lovdahl said. The patient rooms are fully equipped with the needed medical equipment, including oxygen piped to each.

Medical staff have also been at work preparing the center. Dr. Chase Osbon, of CCM Health, is serving as lead physician and has developed algorithms to aid in identifying patients most appropriate for care in the facility. Staffing schedules for nursing and respiratory therapy have been developed for two weeks out. Ventilators and other equipment are also at the ready, according to Lovdahl.

In some ways, he said, the five health care centers are ahead of the state in having a regional care center ready to go. He said it’s critical, as hospitals may otherwise be overwhelmed. Based on projections, hospitals in the state can expect a surge in COVID-19 patients as the pandemic grows.

The difference between when hospitals see 90 percent of their beds needed for COVID-19 patients to when the need is at 150 percent of their capacity will be a matter of only days, he explained. Overall, he believes the state may find it will need more than one alternative care center in each region as the surge occurs.

The five health care centers are continuing to prepare the facility for patients as they wait for the license they seek from the state to open its doors. “I guess what I see now is us having to wait a little longer before it goes into action,” he said.

The owner of the former prison facility, CoreCivic, has offered its use at no cost and has provided staffing to maintain it.

The five health centers originally planned to eventually have 88 beds at the facility. The health centers had projected that they would be serving 559 patients during a 55- to 67-day span. That’s based on projections that 70 percent of residents in the three counties will be eventually infected by the coronavirus, and that 5 percent of them will need hospital care.

If designated the southwest region’s alternative care center, the Tri-County COVID Medical Center could possibly be needed to serve larger numbers of patients, Lovdahl said.

In the meantime, he wants residents in the three counties to know that the health care centers will continue their efforts to make certain their health care needs are met. “At the end of the day I think our community will be taken care," Lovdahl said. “People living here should rest assured that their health and that of their loved ones remains of the utmost concern.”