GM, Ford end critical care ventilator production

Literature for 2020 Ford pickup trucks sits at a car dealership in Peoria, Ill., on May 14. Daniel Acker/Bloomberg

General Motors and Ford Motor Co. are exiting the ventilator business, turning their focus back to the car business.

Both automakers have fulfilled the terms of the contracts they had with the federal government to make the life-saving machines.

But GM is still making face masks. The company said it will donate 2 million face masks to Michigan public schools as part of the State of Michigan’s MI Mask Aid partnership. GM’s contribution includes 750,000 child-size masks for elementary students. Those will be ready for delivery by Sept. 14, GM said. Also, 1.25 million adult-size masks for high school students, faculty and staff will be ready for delivery by Sept. 28.

On Monday, GM and its partner Ventec Life Systems delivered the last of the 30,000 ventilators owed the U.S. government as part of a $489 million contract. GM said the full federal order was completed in 154 days, with one ventilator made about every seven minutes.

Jeffrey Dickerson was one of the first patients to use a GM and Ventec ventilator at Weiss Memorial Hospital in Chicago. In April, he walked into the hospital and struggled to breathe.

“The team at Weiss put me on one of your machines, and I was fortunate to make a fast recovery,” Dickerson said. “They later told me they were running out of ventilators, but fortunately had received one of the first shipments from the federal government, so I didn’t have to wait for help.”

A General Motors and Ventec Life Systems team member finishes final testing of the last VOCSN V+Pro critical care ventilator for delivery to complete the 30,000 unit order for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services — to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic — Monday, August 31, 2020 at the General Motors manufacturing facility in Kokomo, Indiana.

GM CEO Mary Barra said the automaker’s motivation to produce the critical care ventilators “was fueled by thousands of people at GM, Ventec and our suppliers who all wanted to do their part to help save lives during the pandemic. It was inspiring to see so many people achieve so much so quickly.”

Meanwhile, Ford fulfilled its $336 million contract to deliver 50,000 Model A-E ventilators in partnership with GE Healthcare on Friday, but its last day of production was Monday.

“We manufactured a small amount of extra ventilators for GE Healthcare after fulfilling our contractual obligation,” Ford spokeswoman Rachel McCleery said.

Both automakers stepped into action in March as the coronavirus pandemic escalated and hospitals did not have enough of the life-saving machines. Likewise, with the national stockpile short of ventilators, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer asked GM to help locate medical supplies, including ventilators, for the state. Around the same time, President Donald Trump applied pressure on GM to help make ventilators too.

Now GM and Ford say they do not plan to continue ventilator production.

“We will continue to look for ways to address the needs of our communities and workforce as the COVID-19 pandemic continues,” McCleery said.

Ford had been making the ventilators at its Rawsonville Road plant. It resumed auto parts production in May as part of an industry-wide restart following an 8-week shutdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

The ventilators were made in a separate part of the Rawsonville plant so as to not interfere with the production of components, transmission oil pumps, electric battery packs and fuel pumps.

GM and Ventec, based in Bothell, Washington, have been building the ventilators at GM’s sprawling 272-acre complex in Kokomo, Indiana, since early April. Ventec is also building them at its own facility in Bothell.

GM also builds electronic components for vehicles at the Kokomo facility. The ventilator production is done in a separate, large office building on the same campus that was converted for manufacturing, said GM spokesman Dan Flores.

Ventec will lease factory space from GM at the plant to keep making the ventilators.

“Our hope continues to be that mitigation efforts stop the spread of this virus. Ventec Life Systems is committed to maintaining increased production capacity for as long as it is needed to ensure front line health care workers have the tools necessary to save lives,” said Ventec Life Systems CEO Chris Kiple.

But no one is sure of what the demand will be. As of two weeks ago, the Department of Health and Human Services told the Free Press there is no longer a shortage of ventilators in the national stockpile.

“While there is not currently a shortfall of ventilators in the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS), the new ventilators procured during the COVID-19 response will ensure the United States is prepared to respond to any hot spots in the coming months as well as any future public health emergency response that might require these devices for lifesaving care,” said Amber Dukes, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The Strategic National Stockpile had more than 95,100 ventilators available for deployment to hospitals across the United States as of Aug. 14.

Tribune Wire

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