Ramped-up making of ventilators isn’t meeting US demand

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NEW YORK (The Wall Street Journal) — Intensified manufacturing efforts aren’t moving fast enough to meet the rising U.S. need for ventilators that can keep critical coronavirus patients breathing, hospital and medical-device company officials said.

A frantic global effort is under way to manufacture more of the breathing machines. Traditional ventilator makers including Medtronic PLC and Hamilton Medical AG are more than doubling their weekly output. New entrants Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. have promised a few thousand ventilators as early as this month before sharply ramping up manufacturing.
The federal government has also taken steps to find and distribute ventilators, shipping ventilators from its strategic stockpile and the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Yet the reinforcements aren’t likely to arrive soon enough and in sufficient numbers for U.S. hospitals confronting a surge of cases or gearing up for the next wave, hospital and medical-device industry officials said.
Hospitals in the U.S., which have about 60,000 ventilators on hand, will be about 25,000 short of what they need when the surge in coronavirus patients peaks around the middle of this month, estimated Neil Carpenter, who consults for hospitals at Array Advisors.
“I really need them now,” said Chris Van Gorder, chief executive of Scripps Health, which operates five hospitals in San Diego County, Calif.
Scripps placed a roughly $1 million order for 30 ventilators in early March, Mr. Van Gorder said. Yet delivery is scheduled in eight to 10 weeks, which is likely too late, he said. Without the new orders, doctors are preparing to use one ventilator for two patients.
Scripps also hopes to secure more ventilators from San Diego County, which placed its own order. The county hasn’t yet received a delivery date, according to its procurement office.
Hospitals outside the U.S. are also struggling with an insufficient number of ventilators on hand and being delivered.
Ventilators, complicated machines often the size of a desktop printer, have emerged as a crucial weapon in hospital coronavirus treatment. They are used to aid critically ill corona-virus patients, whose infections have all but overwhelmed their lungs and choked off breathing.
Many don’t survive even after being hooked up to one.
Hospitals, which typically use the devices on premature babies and pneumonia patients, didn’t have enough of the machines to cope with the influx of coronavirus patients. As their demand jumped, facilities said they searched frantically for ventilators to fill mounting needs.
Northwell Health, in New York City and the surrounding region, is converting up to roughly 270 anesthesia machines and outfitting about 350 other devices with 3-D printed parts so they can function as ventilators, a spokesman said. It is waiting on an order for more than 500 ventilators placed weeks ago to be totally fulfilled, said Phyllis McCready, who oversees the health system’s supply chain.
On Friday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order allowing the National Guard to take ventilators from hospitals in areas of the state that don’t have a lot of cases, and redistribute them to hospitals in need.
Manufacturers are ratcheting up production. Yet companies say it takes time to move employees around, add production lines and arrange a supply chain for the hundreds of components in each machine.
Altogether, medical-device manufacturers are making on average 2,000 to 3,000 ventilators a week, compared with 700 a week before the crisis, said the Advanced Medical Technology Association industry group. It expects production to increase to 5,000 to 7,000 ventilators a week in the coming weeks.
“We could double or triple capacity and still not be able to meet global demand,” said Eric Honroth, head of North America for Getinge AB, a Swedenbased maker of ventilators that is moving to increase production by 60% to make 16,000 ventilators this year.
General Motors is working with ventilator maker Ventec Life Systems to make 10,000 machines a month, and possibly up to 20,000, but it would take till late spring or summer to reach full capacity.
Medtronic, which is transferring employees from a pacemaker plant to its nearby ventilator factory in Galway, Ireland, plans to double production by the end of this month and make an estimated 30,000 ventilators in the next six months, said Bob White, head of the company’s minimally invasive therapies unit.

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