Tesla co-founder & CEO Elon Musk is receiving criticism after the more than 1,000 ventilators he donated for COVID-19 relief were reportedly not the specific kind for use in intensive care units.
According to a report in the Financial Times, among the 1,255 donated FDA-approved ventilators from ResMed (NYSE:RMD), Philips (NYSE:PHG) and Medtronic (NYSE:MDT) that were part of oversupply in China, were bilevel positive airway pressure (BPAP) machines, commonly used for treating sleep apnea.
BPAP machines are reportedly sometimes called “non-invasive ventilators.” They’re not the same thing as the invasive ventilators used in intensive care units to deliver oxygen to the lungs as part of life support.
An American Society of Anesthesiologists guidance from February warned that BPAP machines are among the systems that “may increase the risk of infections transmission.” However, the FDA issued guidance on March 22 that included BPAP machines as possible alternatives to ventilators while addressing the shortage of devices.
“Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP), auto-CPAP, and bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP or BPAP) machines typically used for treatment of sleep apnea (either in the home or facility setting) may be used to support patients with respiratory insufficiency provided appropriate monitoring (as available) and patient condition,” the FDA wrote.
Musk has received criticism, some of which is related to the questioned safety of the BPAP machines, while other shots have been taken at him for playing up his contribution of “ventilators” when the BPAP machines are different from the standard ventilator that hospitals are short on.
The entrepreneur has attempted to further his contribution by reopening Tesla’s New York production facility to manufacture medical devices instead of solar panels to assist Medtronic in ventilator production. He also defended himself regarding the BPAP machines on Twitter.
“All hospitals were given exact specifications of ResMed & Philips ventilators before delivery & all confirmed they would be critical,” Musk wrote on social media.
ResMed CEO Mick Farrell spoke on CNBC’s Mad Money yesterday, praising Musk for his donation and acknowledging that the machines were not the traditional ventilators, but the BPAP machines that have proved controversial.
“I think it’s great what Elon did,” Farrell said. “He went out and bought what I would call bi-level non-invasive ventilators from a platform of ours from five years ago from Asia and brought a thousand of them to New York.”
In an email. ResMed chief medical officer Dr. Carlos Nunez told MassDevice that Musk did not purchase the ventilators directly from the company, so it was not aware that Tesla had bought them.
Nunez said ResMed has seen an increased demand for ventilators and bilevel devices for non-invasive ventilation (NIV) and the company is scaling up production to meet need in both cases. Nunez added that a large number of COVID-19 patients in China and Europe were treated with NIV and demand for NIV devices has increased in the U.S.
“As we continue to double or triple our output of these devices, we encourage any non-ventilation manufacturer willing to help to source or create more of these components, strengthening the supply chain that all ventilator makers are drawing from to help meet this rising global demand and save lives,” Nunez said.