In the face of a global shortage, American industries can step up and quickly produce ventilators. All week, I have been receiving text messages and emails that say things like “By the way, my company makes parts for G.E. ventilators. We just got a big order that we are pushing through as fast as we can.” The General Motors chief executive, Mary T. Barra, announced that G.M. was working closely with Ventec Life Systems, one of a few ventilator companies based in the U.S., to rapidly scale up production of their critically important respiratory products. My colleagues at the nation’s top hospitals are getting phone calls from tech leaders asking for ventilator specs.
Such stories give me hope. But we need the federal government, too. The White House has said that the Defense Production Act could be invoked to compel industries to make necessary equipment in a time of crisis. That’s a good step, but there appears to be no firm plan other than repurposing ventilators from surgery centers. And if there is a secret one, the absence of timely and transparent information about it has profoundly undermined trust. Healthcare workers and American citizens deserve better than vague reassurance. We need a plan.
The second problem is ventilator distribution. Once industry rapidly scales ventilator production, where should these ventilators be delivered? Which hospitals need them most? How can we build a nimble logistics operation that can rapidly deploy these machines the moment that a shortage appears imminent?