It was just two weeks ago that Lesley Gouldie, the chief executive officer of Toronto-based Thornhill Medical, reached out to the government about the company’s mobile ventilator technology.
Within days, Gouldie was meeting with key officials, explaining the advantages of the company’s portable technology and how it could help in the fight against COVID-19, particularly in the event of intensive care unit surges.
“We have this amazing technology and it’s not currently used in Canada,” Gouldie said in an interview with Yahoo Finance Canada.
“There was no way we were going to stand by and not get this in front of the people that need to know about it.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced Tuesday that the federal government will spend $2 billion on protective personal equipment, including masks, face shields, gowns, along with ventilators, test kits and swabs and hand sanitizer as the country fights the COVID-19 pandemic. Included in that spending is a contract with Thornhill Medical to manufacture 500 mobile compact ventilator systems that could be delivered as early as April.
“Protective personal equipment is essential to protect healthcare workers that are on the frontlines of this fight. We recognize that more is needed,” Trudeau said in his daily press conference outside his home.
“We’re coordinating with the provinces and territories, the public health agency and the experts to make sure our healthcare workers get everything they need. This is a priority for our government, and we will continue to source new solutions everyday.”
In order for Thornhill Medical to complete the federal order as quickly as possible, the company has partnered with Linamar, Canada’s second-largest auto parts manufacturer, to produce the ventilators. Thornhill Medical typically produces about 50 ventilators a month.
“We needed the depth and breadth of Linamar’s facilities in order to deliver on the federal government’s order,” Gouldie said.
“To have access to their infrastructure, supply chain expertise, capabilities, technology and people, it’s huge.”
Linamar chief executive Linda Hasenfratz said in an interview that the company is working day-and-night to get production at its Guelph, Ont. facility as quickly as possible. Over the weekend, Linamar put a call-out asking for volunteers to for a range of positions involved in the ventilator production.
“We were overwhelmed by the response of people really wanting to help out,” Hasenfratz said.
“It’s incredible how many companies and individual are rallying together to try to help solve the shortages and protect our frontline healthcare workers. I think it’s fantastic.”
Trudeau said Ottawa has spoken to more than 3,000 companies that have offered to contribute in various ways in the fight against COVID-19. It has so far reached formal agreements with Thornhill, as well as Medicom and Spartan Bioscience to produce medical supplies and equipment.
The government has also signed letters of intent with five companies, including Irving Oil, to produce various goods for healthcare professionals. Trudeau also cited Bombardier and 3M as companies that have offered assistance.
Irving Oil will retool its blending and packaging facility in Saint John, N.B. to produce hand sanitizer that has been approved by Health Canada. Bombardier has offered to donate its overstock of personal protective equipment to the provincial governments in Quebec and Ontario, and is in the midst of discussions about retooling its manufacturing capability to help produce medical equipment.
“We are engaging with officials of all levels Government to understand the evolving urgent needs,” Bombardier spokesperson Jessica McDonald said in a statement.
The agreements are part of the government’s effort to mobilize Canada’s manufacturing industry in a war-time effort to fight the spread and impact of the coronavirus. Various federal programs have been refocused to prioritize the fight against COVID-19, including the Strategic Innovation Fund, the National Research Council, Innovation Solutions Canada and the government’s Superclusters fund.
Many companies have been stepping up in recent days to provide assistance to governments and frontline workers. Canada Goose announced last week that it will reopen two of its manufacturing facilities to produce scrubs and patient gowns, donating the goods to local hospitals at no cost.
With files from Jeff Lagerquist