Push is on to build more ventilators, find substitute machines for COVID-19

VIDEO: Push is on to build more ventilators and find substitute machines for COVID-19

Suddenly, manufacturing ventilators is an urgent national project.

Bothell-based Ventec has a deal with General Motors to ramp up production.

On Friday, GM workers in Indiana began assembling their first prototype.

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“One week ago this building was just vacant and we’re turning it into a factory,” Jim Glynn, GM’s Vice President for Global Workplace Safety told KIRO 7.

Glynn said regular production will start in mid-April, and the company hopes to produce 10,000 ventilators a month.

"Everybody is committed to it because we're thinking about how every ventilator could save a life, everybody is excited to play a role in making this a reality," Glynn said.

The all-hands-on-deck approach to building ventilator capacity includes retired anesthesiologist Dr. Peter Dunbar, a longtime Harborview Medical Center physician and national leader.

"All modern anesthesia machines have built in ventilators," Dunbar said.

Anesthesia machines have gas to put a patient to sleep and a ventilator to help them breathe.

"They're not ideal for long term usage because they require close supervision by anesthesia professionals, but they are a satisfactory substitute for the intensive care ventilators that we've been hearing so much about in the news these days," Dunbar said.

Dunbar led a statewide count of anesthesia machines in hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers.

He figures there are 818 available.

"We have a whole lot of anesthesiologists and nurse anesthetists who are not working and a whole lot of anesthesia machines which can ventilate people," Dunbar said.

If the need arises, Dunbar said hospitals could roll anesthesia machines into hallways and create makeshift ICU's.

State officials estimate Washington hospitals have about a thousand ICU ventilators, with another thousand on the way.