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First GM-built ventilators arrive at hospitals

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

General Motors Co.'s first ventilators arrived Friday at Chicago-area hospitals — one month after conversations about the possibility of the Detroit automaker manufacturing the devices began.

The shipments are the first completed of the 30,000 ventilators designed by Washington-based Ventec Life Systems and ordered by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the National Strategic Stockpile amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The program is a $489.4 million contract with GM, though the automaker has said it is producing the machines that help patients to breathe in severe cases at cost.

Ventec Life Systems staff show staff at Franciscan Health Olympia Fields Hospital how to operate VOCSN critical care ventilators Friday, April 17, 2020 in Olympia Fields, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. Franciscan received the first shipment of ventilators produced by General Motors and Ventec in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The passion and commitment that people at GM, Ventec and our suppliers have put into this work is inspiring," GM CEO Mary Barra said in a statement. "We are all humbled to support the heroic efforts of medical professionals in Chicagoland and across the world who are fighting to save lives and turn the tide of the pandemic."

The equipment built by paid volunteers at GM's Kokomo Operations in Indiana went to Franciscan Health Olympia Fields and Weiss Memorial hospitals. UPS Inc. on Saturday is delivering a third shipment to the Federal Emergency Management Agency at the Gary/Chicago International Airport for distribution elsewhere.

“For a community hospital that was already struggling with budgetary constraints prior to this crisis, these ventilators are a much-needed infusion of critical resources to care for our patients, which includes a significant elderly population," Mary Shehan, Weiss Memorial Hospital CEO, said in a statement.

The contract with the government resulted from a president memorandum under the Defense Production Act ordering GM to accept government contracts. GM's efforts to build ventilators at Kokomo, however, had begun well before then. The company is expected to complete the order by the end of August.

"Not only has GM/Ventec and the UAW set a new Trump Time standard in rapid industrial mobilization — just weeks from site construction to ventilator production — the GM/Ventec ventilators are now rolling off the line," Peter Navarro, White House assistant to the president, said in a statement.

Workers build the first production ventilators at the General Motors Co. manufacturing facility in Kokomo, Indiana, Monday, April 13, 2020. GM and Ventec Life Systems are partnering to produce Ventec critical care ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The deliveries come a day after the federal government officially announced a $336 million contract with Chicago-based GE Healthcare through which Ford Motor Co. by July 13 will make 50,000 air-powered ventilators designed by Florida's Airon Corp.  at its Rawsonville Components Plant in Ypsilanti.

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble