Coronavirus: Bethesda Hospital to become a COVID-19 care facility

The St. Paul hospital is being transformed to handle coronavirus patients.
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Bethesda Hospital in St. Paul will become Minnesota's first facility that will specifically handle coronavirus patients.

M Health Fairview made the announcement Tuesday evening, saying the long-term care hospital in downtown St. Paul will be transformed to "meet the specialized care needs of an expected influx of COVID-19 patients in the coming weeks."

Efforts are being made to prepare Minnesota's hospital facilities for what is expected to be major demand for hospital beds and ventilators as the coronavirus spreads among the Minnesota population.

A $200 million package passed the Minnesota Legislature on Tuesday that will provide additional funding to the state's healthcare providers, and the move by M Health Fairview follows CDC guidelines designed to protect healthcare workers and other vulnerable patients.

It's also a measure backed by the likes of University of Minnesota infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm, who has recommended that hospitals open up separate wards where everyone is infected rather than having one patient per room so that health care workers can continue wearing the same protective equipment for much of a shift.

As part of the transformation, Bethesda will increase its bed numbers from 50 to 90, including 35 ICU beds and 55 medical-surgical beds for acutely ill COVID-19 patients.

"Consolidating COVID-19 patient care at Bethesda helps maintain a safe and high quality care environment for patients and staff, centralizes resources, and scales efficient care procedures," M Health Fairview said.

"Many patients with severe COVID-19 disease require specialized care teams and equipment such as ventilators to help them breathe and prevent multisystem organ failure. This plan enhances our ability to equip the facility with providers skilled in the care of highly acute patients and technology required for care of these critically ill patients."

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Current patients at Bethesda will be taken this week to other M Health Fairview facilities.

There have only been 60 confirmed cases of coronavirus so far in Minnesota, three of which have required hospitalization.

However, health officials say that the actual figure is much higher given that there are limited tests available, with anyone who is not a healthcare worker, suffering from symptoms that require hospitalization, or living in long-term care facilities being told to just treat their symptoms at home as they won't be able to be tested.

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