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Vacant Appleton prison could become COVID-19 care center

Local health care organizations combine forces to set-up a Tri-County COVID Medical Center in western Minnesota

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APPLETON, Minn. — Local health care organizations are combining forces to set-up a Tri-County COVID Medical Center should it be needed in the event of a high volume of COVID-19 cases in the region.

Plans call for the Tri-County COVID Medical Center to operate out of the vacant Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton, which is owned by CoreCivic. The facility is being provided to TCMC at no cost – meaning no financial benefit to CoreCivic.

Appleton Area Health, CCM Health in Montevideo, Johnson Memorial Health Services in Dawson, Madison Healthcare Services and Swift County Benson Hospital announced this information in a news release Saturday afternoon, saying they are working together to create a critical care facility for patients in and near Chippewa, Lac qui Parle and Swift counties who have confirmation of COVID-19 virus. Appleton is about 150 miles west of Minneapolis.

The release came from Appleton Area Health's public information officer Angel Molden, who is currently serving as point person for information on the combined efforts.

While there have been no confirmed cases in this region, the group says they are taking a proactive stance in preparation for the number of COVID-19 cases that could occur in the communities they serve. The release states that, since the COVID-19 outbreak is a rapidly evolving situation, the five independent health care organizations will continue taking steps to help control the spread of this virus while caring for those who may become affected.

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The facility will be staffed and managed by health care professionals, and CoreCivic will devote a small staff to maintain the building, according to the release.

Commenting on the company's role, CoreCivic CEO Damon Hininger stated, “This is an extraordinary time in the history of our country when the public and private sectors need to work together to find innovative ways to solve the most urgent problems we face. We see our role as supporting our government partners and the communities we serve in any way we can.”

Leadership from the area health care organizations said they feel the correctional facility is the best fit in the tri-county area to start this endeavor. It has robust medical and sanitation facilities, its design allows the staff to triage patients, and it is turnkey.

Teams from each health care organization have already begun planning and meeting at the proposed location. If all support and resources come together, the TCMC is projected to open March 30.

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