Larry Kronick, the president of PMT Partners, a Florida company that sells a simple breathing machine already used by the military and ambulance crews, said he had 1,000 of his Oxylator respirators ready to go, but buyers have been scarce.
“I can make 1,000 more, but I need money to buy materials,” he said.
Eric Honroth, the North America president for Getinge, a Swedish company that makes 10,000 ventilators annually, said he would welcome government intervention to solve supply-chain bottlenecks for components, but that production would be better left to companies with expertise in the field.
“These are complex machines that require complicated technology to keep patients alive,” he said. “I would have some trepidation and reticence about someone else trying to manufacture what we do. It’s not like we’re manufacturing masks.”
Then there is the issue of who will run the new devices. Dr. Mahshid Abir, an emergency physician at University of Michigan, said most ventilators require specialized training to operate. With so many health care workers falling ill, there is an additional staffing challenge: patients tethered to breathing machines need to be monitored 24 hours a day. The New England Journal of Medicine estimates that there are only enough respiratory therapists to care for 100,000 patients at one time.
“You can’t just put someone on it and press start and you’re done with it,” Dr. Abir said. “There’s a lot of adjustments that need to be made, depending on how sick a patient is. Even if we got an indefinite number of ventilators, we don’t have an unlimited number of people to operate them.”
In the meantime, G.M. and Ventec have been “working around the clock” on plans to make ventilators at a small electronics plant the car company owns in Kokomo, Ind., a G.M. spokesman said in a statement.