General Motors announced Friday it is bringing back 1,000 workers at two plants in Indiana to begin making ventilators for critical-care COVID-19 patients struggling to breathe and stay alive.
A company announcement said it could start shipping the ventilators to hospitals and other medical facilities as soon as April to combat the national shortage of the life-saving machines.
GM said it will deploy Indiana workers to its plant in Kokomo, which makes electronic components for vehicles, and to its Marion facility, a stamping and sheet metal assembly plant.
Ventec, a company that makes ventilators, and GM have been working around the clock to retrofit the GM facilities to eventually produce more than 2,000 ventilators per month, they said in a joint announcement. They said the manufacturing process can be scaled to produce more machines if the need arises.
Ventec and GM said they’ve developed supply sources for the more than 700 individual parts needed to build and asseumble the critical-care Ventec VOCSN ventilators at the GM plants.
“By tapping their expertise, GM is enabling us to get more ventilators to more hospitals much faster,” said Chris Kiple, Ventec CEO. “This partnership will help save lives.”
U.S. hospitals say they are bracing for a possible onslaught of coronavirus patients with pneumonia and other breathing difficulties and face a shortage of ventilators.
The Society of Critical Care Medicine has projected that 960,000 coronavirus patients in the U.S. may need to be put on ventilators at one point or another. New York City, the epicenter of the virus outbreak in the U.S., has said it needs 30,000 more ventilators for the rapidly growing volume of COVID-19 patients.
The U.S. has only about 200,000 of the machines, by the society’s estimate, and around half are older models that may not be ideal for the most critically ill patients. Also, many ventilators are already being used by other patients with severe, non-coronavirus ailments.
“We are proud to stand with other American companies and our skilled employees to meet the needs of this global pandemic,” said Mary Barra, GM chairman and CEO. “This partnership has rallied the GM enterprise and our global supply base to support Ventec, and the teams are working together with incredible passion and commitment. I am proud of this partnership as we work together to address urgent and life-saving needs.”
She said for the past week Ventec and GM teams have been working tirelessly across manufacturing, engineering, purchasing, legal and other sectors to implement a plan for immediate, scaled production of critical-care ventilators.
“GM is in the position to help build more ventilators because of the remarkable performance of GM and Ventec’s global supply base,” said Barra. “Our joint teams have moved mountains to find real solutions to save lives and fight the pandemic.”
Reporter Kelly Lafferty Gerber of the Kokomo, Indiana, Tribune contributed details to this story.