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Ford, GE Healthcare sign federal contract to build 50,000 ventilators

Jordyn Grzelewski
The Detroit News

Ford Motor Co. and partner GE Healthcare this week inked a $336 million contract with the federal government to build 50,000 ventilators by July 13, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said Thursday.

The deal is the latest in a series of federal contracts, including one with General Motors Co. announced last week, that fall under the Defense Production Act. President Donald Trump on April 2 instructed HHS Secretary Alex Azar to invoke the act to accelerate the production of the devices needed for the care of seriously ill COVID-19 patients.

A Model A-E ventilator, left, and a simple test lung. The ventilator uses a design that operates on air pressure without the need for electricity.

"HHS's use of the DPA at the direction of President Trump is helping get critical materials into the hands of American companies like GE to initiate and scale up ventilator production," Azar said in a statement Thursday, noting the president's March 27 vow that the U.S. would produce 100,000 new ventilators by early July. 

HHS now has contracts in place to produce more than 117,000 ventilators by then, and expects more than 187,000 to be built by the end of the year. Under current contracts, HHS expects 41,000 ventilators will be available by the end of May.

"These companies and their incredibly dedicated workers will ensure that our country can provide our hospitals and healthcare providers with the ventilators needed to sustain and save lives during this pandemic," Azar said. "The thousands of ventilators delivered to the Strategic National Stockpile starting this month, continuing through the spring and summer, will mean we have more capacity to respond to the pandemic as it evolves."

Even before the contract was finalized, Ford and GE had publicly committed to building 50,000 ventilators. The ventilator they will build is a $7,000 device designed by Florida-based Airon Corp. Production is slated to start next week at Ford's Rawsonville Plant in Ypsilanti. 

"We appreciate the federal government's action and will continue to work closely with the administration to meet the immediate needs of coronavirus patients," Ford said in a statement.

General Motors this week began production on ventilators at its Kokomo Operations in Indiana. In partnership with Washington-based ventilator manufacturer Ventec Life Systems, GM is set to produce 30,000 ventilators by the end of August under a $489.4 million contract with HHS, The Detroit News reported. The automaker will deliver 6,132 of them by June 1.

Ventilator production is just one way U.S. automakers, which have shut down auto production to help stop the spread of COVID-19, have stepped up to produce medical equipment and personal protective gear that is urgently needed by hospitals and workers on the front lines of the pandemic. Earlier this week, for example, Ford announced new initiatives to boost production of respirators, face masks, gowns and COVID-19 test kits. 

As of Thursday, the respiratory disease that has hit the Metro Detroit area particularly hard, was confirmed to have infected more than 2 million people and killed nearly 140,000 worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University.

jgrzelewski@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @JGrzelewski