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With the entire nation and world in need of medical equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic, Ford Motor Company is putting its equipment and employees to work to counteract the extreme ventilator shortage.

No one was prepared for the astronomical and urgent demand for medical supplies like gowns, face shields, and ventilators. Those on the frontlines of the fight against the novel coronavirus have struggled to protect themselves as they keep pace with its rapid spread.

Now, in the same way the company answered the nation's plea for help in 1940 to build equipment that would ultimately help win WWII, Ford is once again stepping up to the plate.

Welcome Allies in a Time of Need

This isn't the first time the country has turned to unexpected allies in a time of need. During WWII, as fears of enemy attacks on domestic soil mounted, President Franklin Roosevelt turned to the automotive industry to build war planes and supplies.

He called upon car manufacturers, like Ford, to produce 50,000 airplanes, 130,000 engines, and 42,000 guns. In response, Ford set to work building the largest production facility the world had ever seen.

That facility, known as Willow Run, manufactured over 18,000 B-24 Liberators which were built by so many laborers that the government had to create a makeshift city near the factory just to house them. The factory employed 42,000 men and women dedicated to assisting in the war effort, one of which was Rose Will Monroe – the inspiration behind Rosie the Riveter.

Another initiative in 1941 led engineers working for the motor company to create a mobile and affordable infant incubator intended to reduce infant deaths in hospitals. Seven years later, they built a new version of the iron lung to help polio victims. Today, the Henry Ford Health System employs 1,200 physicians as it continues its dedication to the medical field.

In each of these instances, Ford took what it did best – innovation and building machinery – and quickly applied it to an area of need. Eighty years later, Ford has called on its employees to take advantage of the company's resources to help end the ventilator shortage. 

Working to Combat the Ventilator Shortage

Ventilators have become vital in treating patients with severe cases of COVID-19. In its advanced state, the virus causes severe damage to the victim's lungs, dropping their oxygen levels and making it difficult or impossible to breathe. A ventilator combats this symptom by pushing air, with increased levels of oxygen, into the lungs.

Without access to ventilators, patients attempting to fight off severe cases of the virus are left more susceptible to its effects, increasing the likelihood that it can cause irreversible damage.

As the coronavirus spread, hospitals were left dangerously underprepared for the number of sick they'd be treating, with nowhere near the amount of medical supplies needed to treat them. Because medical supply companies were unable to meet the immediate and drastic need for ventilators, the country was forced to turn to alternative resources.

"Our team was able to take a vented seat blower out of one of our vehicles and combine it with a filter and actually make something that was medically robust."

Adrian Price

Today, Ford is making ventilators with the help of hundreds of employees and volunteers by repurposing automotive equipment and using materials intended for far different purposes. Their resourcefulness is reminiscent of the NASA team responsible for bringing the Apollo 13 crew back to Earth in 1970, which was the inspiration behind the Ford initiative's name – Project Apollo.

Adrian Price, Ford's director of Global Core Engineering describes the process, "Our team was able to take a vented seat blower out of one of our vehicles and combine it with a filter and actually make something that was medically robust. Currently we're making face shields using EPDM rubber that actually comes from the door seals of some of our vehicles."

The project began in late March with the ambitious goal of producing 50,000 ventilators in 100 days. In addition to helping solve for the ventilator shortage, Ford is also producing face shields and medical gowns.

One Ford employee and volunteer for the project, JoAnne Ritchie, is also the mother of a nurse working on the frontlines in the fight against COVID-19. She says, "I have a daughter that's a nurse and I'm twice her age. She's got her whole life to live and I want to do whatever I can to protect her and the other people that are putting their lives on the line."

"I want to do whatever I can to protect her and the other people that are putting their lives on the line."

JoAnne Ritchie

Ritchie's grandmother was actually one of the volunteers who helped assemble supplies for WWII after President Roosevelt's call to action. "I'm proud that she passed that legacy on... I'm glad I stepped up to the plate and I'm going to see it through," Ritchie says. She's just one of many continuing a longstanding tradition of selfless dedication to the greater good.

The ventilator shortage caused by the rapid spread of COVID-19 sparked a wave of creativity and innovative solutions across the automobile industry. People across the country and the world have applied their knowledge, skills, and sheer determination to combat the virus and solve the problems it has created.

As the world continues the fight to put an end to this pandemic, the altruism shown by businesses like Ford, their employees, and volunteers has served to unite and spread hope.

Disclaimer: Freethink has an existing relationship with Ford, although they had no input on this story.

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