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First Minnesota hospital dedicated to coronavirus response

The first hospital in Minnesota dedicated solely to the coronavirus response started taking in patients on Thursday.

ST PAUL, Minn — Minnesota’s first hospital set up specifically to battle the coronavirus opened its doors to COVID-19 patients on Thursday, completing a transition that began just a week ago.

"The time that it's demanding of us is unprecedented,” said Dr. Brian Amdahl, Vice President of Medical Affairs for M Health Fairview.

Just a week ago, Bethesda was a long-term acute care hospital with no ICU rooms. By Thursday, M Health created 35 ICU rooms, outfitted with special window units that helped provide negative pressure.

"You are creating, essentially, a vacuum inside the room,” said Maria Raines, Chief Nursing Officer for Bethesda. "As you open the room, all the particulates in this room would stay here and we would be blowing them out, so as to not get into the main area and contaminate things in there. We also have our ventilators, our bedside monitors that we can take care of the sickest patients that will be getting admitted here."

In all, M Health Fairview says Bethesda will be able to take up to 90 COVID-19 patients from its hospitals across the state.

"The projections are, we would fill these beds out of our own system,” said Dr Amdahl.

By transporting those patients into one facility, Dr. Amdahl says the benefits are two-fold.

"So that literally, we can learn from every patient what's effective and what's not, and maybe more importantly, we know that that's safer than a hospital where there's patients that are and aren't COVID positive where the nurse may have protective gear for one patient and not another," Dr. Amdahl said.

The most impressive transformation has been the quick on-boarding of staff, which includes help from many areas.

"We've had a lot of volunteers want to come and work here, within our staff. Both by providers and nurses and other healthcare professionals wanting to come and help us out here at Bethesda Hospital,” Raines said. "We also had a number of our nurses from Bethesda that wanted to stay here, even though the population of those patients would be changing."

Staff have been trained in protective equipment protocol for each area of the hospital, which includes techniques for removing everything from gowns to gloves, and despite the tight timeline, they had a few extra days than originally thought.

"We were prepared to open as early as last Friday on an emergency basis if we had to because the other hospitals were surging,” Dr. Amdahl said. “But I think the community measures slowed down enough that we've been able to cross more t's and dot more i's this week so we're better prepared for it today.”

In other words, thank you for staying home, Minnesota.

RELATED: Nurses call for more preparation, safety equipment from M Health Fairview

RELATED: Pandemic strains MN's already stressed childcare industry

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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