After a deal between General Motors and Ventec Life Systems to produce 80,000 ventilators briefly appeared halted, President Trump yesterday ordered GM to proceed under the Defense Production Act.
A New York Times report earlier on Friday said the Federal Emergency Management Agency had paused the $1 billion plan, saying it needed time to determine whether the cost was prohibitive. Later yesterday, the Associated Press reported that Trump invoked the DPA because he was unhappy that GM cut its projected ventilator output to 6,000 and raise the price.
Democratic leaders including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo have been demanding that Trump use the Korean War–era DPA to prod manufacturers to make items such as ventilators and respirator masks that are in short supply as the COVID-19 pandemic ramps up in the U.S. Trump has mostly insisted that the mere threat of using the DPA is enough.
In a joint statement, GM said it had been working with Ventec and parts suppliers around the clock for a week . The AP reported that GM said it had “never wavered” from its commitment to build Ventec’s ventilators. The $1.5 billion price tag for the GM and Ventec joint venture price the ventilators at $18,000 apiece.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, there have been numerous reports of shortages of ventilators, among other equipment. Several companies have stepped up and said they would deliver more ventilators to address the growing need. The FDA has also started to relax some of its enforcements on ventilators.
Now GM will manufacture Ventec’s FDA-cleared VOCSN critical care ventilators at the automaker’s Kokomo, Ind., plant, with plans to begin shipping in April. Ventec said it was also “taking aggressive steps” to increase production at its plant in Bothell, Wash.
GM will also begin manufacturing FDA-cleared Level 1 surgical masks next week at its Warren, Mich., facility, with a plan to produce up to 50,000 masks per day within two weeks and the potential to increase to 100,000 per day. The automaker said it would perform its overall coronavirus-related work at cost.
“This unique partnership combines Ventec’s respiratory care expertise with GM’s manufacturing might to produce sophisticated and high-quality critical care ventilators,” said Ventec CEO Chris Kiple in the joint statement. “This pandemic is unprecedented and so is this response, with incredible support from GM and their suppliers. Healthcare professionals on the front lines deserve the best tools to treat patients and precision critical care ventilators like VOCSN are what is necessary to save lives.”
GM said it will deploy an estimated 1,000 American workers to scale production of critical care ventilators immediately.
“We are proud to stand with other American companies and our skilled employees to meet the needs of this global pandemic,” added GM chairman and CEO Mary Barra. “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.”
Ventec’s multi-function VOCSN ventilator was cleared by the FDA in 2017. It integrates five separate devices including a critical care ventilator, oxygen concentrator, cough assist, suction and nebulizer into a single portable device, according to the company. VOCSN provides invasive and non-invasive ventilation for patients at the hospital and at home, Ventec added.
This article has been updated with information from The Associated Press.