Five area hospitals are cooperating in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. CCM Health, along with the Appleton, Benson, Madison, and Dawson hospitals have joined forced to turn the Appleton prison into a fully-functioning hospital for COVID-19 patients.

Five area hospitals are cooperating in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. CCM Health, along with the Appleton, Benson, Madison, and Dawson hospitals have joined forced to turn the Appleton prison into a fully-functioning hospital for COVID-19 patients.

Although it would seem that such a project would take months to coordinate, due to the urgency of the situation, the Tri-County COVID Medical Center (TCCMC) facility has been coming together over a very short period of time.

“The conversation actually started on Sunday, March 15,” said CCM Health CEO Brian Lovdahl. “That was when the governor announced that the schools were being shut down. I reached out to our area hospitals and asked if we should do something together, because I didn’t think any of our individual hospitals could tackle the issues alone in each of our respective communities.”

Where to have such a facility was the first order of business. According to Lovdahl, the Montevideo TACC or CCM Health were initially discussed because CCM Health is equipped with the most ventilators and Intensive Care rooms. He said: “Appleton came forward to say that they had a Memorandum of Understanding from CoreCivic, owners of the Prairie Correctional Facility. On Wednesday, March 18, we toured the facility and decided to proceed with the project. So it’s officially been in the works for about a week.”

Preparations have been moving at a break-neck pace. “We are hoping to be open and ready to go on March 30. We’ve given ourselves 12 days to get it up and running,” said Lovdahl.

Whether or not the facility will be used is wholly dependent on the COVID-19 virus. Lovdahl said: “Ultimately it comes down to how quickly hospitals become overwhelmed with cases!”

From the beginning the five hospitals that are partnering to create TCCMC knew there was no time to lose. “When we first began looking at this, there were no confirmed COVID-19 cases in our respective counties,” Lovdahl said. “We knew that wasn’t going to be the case forever, so we decided to take a proactive approach. It’s great if we don’t have to use it because we’ve made changes throughout our state and nation to slow the growth of cases.”

Throughout the expedited process of getting the TCCMC facility ready, CoreCivic has been more than helpful. “They’ve been wonderful to work with,” said Lovdahl. “They are letting us utilize their facility at zero cost to us. They have staff that is helping us with everything, and the facility itself is up and running and ready to go.”Lovdahl said that Wi-Fi has been hooked up, rooms have been painted, monitors have been delivered, and ten beds are already there. “It’s gone incredibly fast and I can’t tip my hat enough to all of the hospitals who are involved in this! Everyone is dedicating people, resources, and supplies, everyone is doing what they need to do,” he said.

State Rep. Tim Miller and State Sen. Andrew Lang have been working hard to get this project going. Miller said: “Senator Lang and I are working with the state on this project. We’ve assisted the hospitals with licensing and funding efforts at the state level.”

Miller was also quick to praise the organizations involved in the project. He said: “These five hospitals are doing an incredible job getting this facility ready to open its doors!”

Lovdahl said: “Our biggest issue right now is obtaining the licensure and making sure we get the actual license in time. We’re looking at making the facility be an extension of the Appleton Hospital, but it’s been a little bit of an issue. Representative Miller and Senator Lang have been working hard getting in contact with the right people to speed that process up.”

Miller said: “It is amazing how the state and local governments are working together, but it is a complex process. That being said, it is there and it will be ready to go if we do need it.”

All five participating hospitals are providing the necessary equipment for the project. Lovdahl said: “We’re all donating beds, ventilators, monitors, and other equipment. We’ve also been in contact with other companies who could provide other resources such as beds, cots, or other equipment. A lot of people are working hard to pull this all together.”

In order to figure out how to staff the facility, TCCMC utilized models to forecast the area’s needs. “We’re not going to have 50 patients on day one,” said Lovdahl, “we’ll likely have one or two. We will have RNs there as well as physicians that are staffed full-time. There will also be respiratory therapists, pharmacists, and all types of support staff.”

Each of the participating hospitals are contributing to the project. Any revenue will be split five ways; likewise, all expenses will be split five ways.

The hospitals are seeking funding for the project from their respective counties. Lovdahl said: “We’re asking for help in the form of short term loans which would help with any kind of a cash problem any of us might encounter. We know that whatever services we provide may not be paid until five or six months down the road.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, there were no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Chippewa County., although one confirmed case was reported in Lac qui Parle County on Monday. “People have been tested, but we ran out of tests because of the restrictions which were placed on testing. Right now, we are only testing health care workers and current in-care patients in our hospitals.”

Lovdahl described what would happen if someone was suspected to have COVID-19. He said: “If you have the symptoms and we rule out any other kind of respiratory illness, then it is going to be presumed that you have COVID-19. You would have to follow protocol and self-quarantine.”

Patients who exhibit severe symptoms would be sent to TCCMC immediately. “Part of the reason we are doing this is to keep infected people out of our respective hospitals, because we have to make sure we’re doing what we can to ensure the safety of our other patients,” said Lovdahl.

Miller said: “We need a facility that is isolated from the community, and that is exactly what this will be used for. These hospitals are doing an excellent job converting this facility into an off-site hospital. If things were to get really bad and we don’t have enough beds, there are no other options.”

“Our main goal is to be proactive and ready,” said Lovdahl. “Our medical staff is very supportive of this, and a couple of our physicians are leading the charge. It’s scary, it’s exciting, and we will be prepared for this if it does get bad.”

Miller said: “We are hoping the facility isn’t needed, but we also have to prepare for the worst. We are very confident that we will be prepared in the event we have a flare-up of the virus in our area.”

Individual counties will help provide funding for the project. Chippewa County approved up to a $425,977 no-interest loan for the project on Monday. Swift County approved up to $333,794, and Lac qui Parel County has pledged to kick in $240,228 at their respective meetings on Tuesday.

In addition, the five hospitals are in the process of applying for funds to be allocated from the $50 million COVID-19 fund which was recently approved by the state.

For now, our area hospitals are doing everything they can to prepare for COVID-19. It is up to the public to do their part and limit the risk of spreading the disease.