By John Lauritsen

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — As cities across the country anticipate the spread of COVID-19, a community in western Minnesota is planning to put  an old facility to use.

From 1992 to 2010, the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton housed prisoners from across the country. Now, they’re hoping to convert into a medical center, just in case.

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“It was about two weeks ago that it hit me this was going to be much bigger than what I thought it was previously,” said Dr. Brandon Chase Osbon of CCM Health in Montevideo.

Osbon had his doubts about turning a former correctional facility into a building medical building. But those doubts didn’t last long.

“I was really kind of blown away. I thought we can make a few adjustments and turn this from a prison into a hospital,” said Osbon.

Since then, workers have been busy giving former cells a health care feel.

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“They are bringing in some liquid oxygen tanks, piping in, copper pipe. And they can deliver it into the rooms,” said Osbon. “All these rooms need oxygen. It’s one of the many things people are needing for supportive care with COVID-19.”

Patients too could potentially come from across western Minnesota.

Five health care facilities span three counties: Swift, Chippewa, and Lac Qui Parle. They’ll plan to start with 11 beds but can quickly expand to 88.

“If we intermingle our COVID-19 patients with our patients who have congestive heart failure in conditions like that, we put those patients at risk as well,” said Lori Andreas, CEO of Appleton Area Health.

Appleton Area Health is also connected to a senior care facility. By separating potential COVID-19 patients, they feel they can slow the spread. They could eventually treat as many as 300 people in the Tri County Covid Medical Center. But they’re hoping it doesn’t come to that.

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“Our motto is, ‘Let’s get ready for it and hope we don’t have to use it,'” said Andreas.

John Lauritsen