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Legatus Magazine

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Gerald Korson | author
Jun 01, 2020
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Breathing easier through the Pandemic

HOW RESMED AND FORD RETOOLED PRODUCTION TO PRODUCE LIFE-SAVING DEVICES FOR AMERICA

They say when the going gets tough, the tough get going. In this spring’s COVID-19 pandemic, it might be said that when breathing gets tough, the tough find solutions — even when it means retooling your manufacturing plant and retraining your employees to produce life-saving medical and protective equipment.

That’s what many larger corporations and smaller companies have done in recent months. Among these are San Diego-based ResMed, best known for its line of home medical devices to treat sleep apnea and respiratory disorders, and the Ford Motor Company headquartered in Dearborn, Michigan.

ResMed: saving lives with every breath

ResMed was on task preparing for the increased demand for ventilators long before the new virus was detected in the United States.

“As soon as the virus broke out in Wuhan, China, we saw the deadly respiratory effects it was having on patients in that city from our local team,” said ResMed CEO Mick Farrell, a Legate of the San Diego Chapter. The corporation immediately began ramping up production of its lines of bilevel devices, ventilators, and ventilation masks from its factory near Shanghai, China.

Initially they expected COVID-19 to spread similarly to how SARS-CoV-1 did in 2003. But when this coronavirus proved much more contagious, they drastically increased production in larger ResMed factories in Singapore and Australia in an effort to meet anticipated worldwide demand. “We worked within our company to quickly double and then triple our global ventilation production capability, and to increase our production of ventilation masks by tenfold,” said Farrell.

But ventilators don’t run themselves, and the CEO was concerned early that in some hard-hit areas there might not be enough health care workers trained in their use. “Frankly, we can ramp up production of ventilators and ventilation masks much faster than hospital systems can train new respiratory therapists, respiratory nurses, and pulmonary and critical care physicians” — which is why concepts like social distancing and self-quarantine have been so important as ways to “flatten the curve” so that hospitals were not overrun with more patients than they had the beds, supplies, and staff to treat effectively, he explained.

Bilevel or BiPAP ventilators are “non-invasive” devices that operate at two different airway pressures, a higher pressure to trigger inhalation and a lower pressure to facilitate exhalation — unlike a CPAP machine, which provides a single continuous pressure. BiPAP ventilators have utility for sleep apnea but also for certain other respiratory disorders. Doctors say many patients who experience moderate breathing issues with COVID-19 could be served well with a BiPAP ventilator, and the FDA has approved bilevels for coronavirus treatment provided they are fitted with filters.

Some have questioned whether these “noninvasive” ventilators, which feed pressurized air through a tube to a facial mask worn by the patient, would inadvertently spread the virus through aerosolization since they are not closed systems like the “invasive” ventilators that require intubation. But Farrell noted that ordinary clinical precautions are sufficient for reducing any such risk to a level comparable to that of “invasive” ventilators.

“Even with an invasive ventilator and an intubated patient, they can cough or sneeze before and after they are intubated, so the risk of airborne and surface contact transmission of the coronavirus is present in that case as well,” he said.

For the sake of employees, ResMed implemented broad safety practices in their manufacturing and distribution centers and asked employees to work from home who have been able to do so. Farrell praised the “ResMedians” who continue to produce, test, and distribute their products as the company’s “frontline heroes.”

“I am humbled by their dedication to our ultimate customer,” he said, “a person who is suffocating and needs our system to help them breathe!”

Ford: building to lend a hand

Over at Ford, where Ann Arbor Legate Gerald Schoenle is director of global trade services, the automaker stepped up quickly to produce medical devices and PPE in response to the crisis.

In April, in collaboration with GE Healthcare, Ford began manufacturing ventilators licensed from Florida-based Airon in its Rawsonville, Michigan, plant, aiming to deliver 50,000 units by July. The Airon Model A-E, authorized by the FDA for emergency use for coronavirus patients, is a simple ventilator that can be produced more rapidly and cost-effectively than those common in intensive-care units. Typically used in transport situations, the Airon ventilator is fully pneumatic, requiring no electricity or battery. It also has an analog meter and is controlled by switches and dials rather than a digital display, internal computer, and touchscreen.

“The Ford and GE Healthcare teams, working creatively and tirelessly, have found a way to produce this vitally needed ventilator quickly and in meaningful numbers,” said Jim Hackett, Ford’s president and CEO.In another partnership, Ford and 3M have been producing an innovative type of pressurized face mask for health care workers. Called a Powered Air Purifiying Respirator (PAPR), it’s a clear mask that fits over the entire face and draws in air through a tube connected to a pump that filters airborne contaminants. Interestingly, the PAPR, made at Ford’s facility in Flat Rock, Michigan, uses a type of fan Ford installs in ventilated car seats.

Among other initiatives, Ford has been producing reusable gowns from airbag materials; providing drivers, vehicles, and equipment as part of a coalition for testing symptomatic first responders and health care workers; making 3D-printed face shields and donating N-95 masks to hospitals; and lending manufacturing support to help Thermo Fisher Scientific scale production of COVID-19 collection kits.

They’ve also mass-produced facemasks for employee use globally and are seeking to have them certified for medical use. The United Auto Workers support Ford’s efforts, with members serving as “paid volunteers” in making it all happen.

While some reports suggest the ventilators and other products have been coming off the line too late, Jim Baumbick, vice president of Ford Enterprise Product Line Management, disagrees.

“[W]e have very clear signals working with our partners that the demand is far outpacing the supply of this critical equipment,” he said in mid April. “We know that there’s incredible demand and need for this during this short-time horizon.”

Corporate coping with COVID-19

The entire pandemic has been a source of stress for business leaders managing their companies through their COVID-19 response.

For ResMed’s Farrell, global video conferencing, a corporate COVID-19 task force, and shout-outs to ResMed from President Trump and health officials around the world have strengthened the team’s crisis response.

Perhaps most importantly, his faith has kept him on course.

“My daily prayer and scripture meditation time has put plenty of ‘ballast in the boat’ for me to keep steady in the COVID-19 storm,” he said.

Farrell said his heart and prayers go out “to all of these frontline clinical heroes who are donning severely limited quantities of personal protective equipment and working tirelessly around the clock to treat COVID-19 patients worldwide.”

He also asked Legates to pray for his global team “to continue in our vocation, and to help keep many hundreds of thousands of people breathing while their immune system fights against this deadly enemy of COVID-19.”

GERALD KORSON is a Legatus magazine editorial consultant.

 

For the love of truckers

Among those essential servants of U.S. commerce during the COVID-19 pandemic have been the men and women who transport goods along the nation’s highways — truck drivers.

While their services have been necessary to keep supply lines intact, there remains the concern that truckers themselves could carry the virus as they travel across state lines. That has required special precautions for those who manage and staff the facilities that cater to truckers’ needs for fuel, food, and other services.

Though they’ve experienced significantly less traffic on the roads, truckers have also been making fewer stops to avoid exposure to the virus. Those without sleeper cabs have reported trouble finding motels that were renting rooms.

The truck stops have been quieter, too. “The lounges are all closed — the driver’s lounges,” Kansas trucker Kirk Warner told the Topeka Capital-Journal. “The TV rooms are closed. The workout rooms are closed. It’s just a different style these days.”

Warner noted that fellow drivers aren’t as social as before, avoiding handshakes and keeping distance when visiting the stops. But these have been the lucky ones; other truckers who contract or are exposed to COVID-19 are unable to work for weeks at a stretch.

Enter Jenny Love Meyer, executive vice president and chief culture officer of Love’s Travel Stops. This spring, under her direction, Love’s contributed $100,000 to the St. Christopher Truckers Development and Relief Fund (SCF) to assist drivers who are sidelined due to illness or injury during the pandemic.

“This donation reflects our belief that professional truck drivers have been the backbone of the U.S., especially during this challenging time,” said Meyer, a Legate of the Oklahoma City Chapter, in announcing the gift. “This contribution enables us to help drivers with immediate needs when they are unable to work due to COVID-19 or other medical issues.”

Love’s, the nation’s largest travel-stop network with more than 500 locations in 41 states, also is looking out for its 25,000 employees during this crisis beyond its increased safety measures. In March, the company announced temporary across-the-board raises and bonuses to its hourly employees along with free meals during shifts. They also said employees who test positive for COVID-19 will receive up to 80 hours of additional sick leave and that all salaried managers would collect their first-quarter bonuses early.

“We want our team members to know how much we appreciate them,” Meyer said. “They’re doing a fantastic job of keeping our stores clean and stocked. As an essential business, our team members have been critical to helping customers like professional truck drivers get back on the road quickly so they can deliver vital goods across the country.”

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