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GM Trains Staff Charged with Ventilator Production

'We are modern-day Rosie the Riveters.”'

GM and Ventec Life Systems are partnering to produce Ventec VOCSN critical care ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Employees participate in a Safety Orientation and Training Sessions at the facility.
GM and Ventec Life Systems are partnering to produce Ventec VOCSN critical care ventilators in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Employees participate in a Safety Orientation and Training Sessions at the facility.
AJ Mast for General Motors

KOKOMO, Ind. – General Motors is actively training employees at the company’s Kokomo plant in the extensive screening, cleaning and other CDC-recommended procedures that will be in place when volume production of Ventec Life Systems’ critical care ventilator begins in less than two weeks. Among the employees is UAW Local 292 member Debbie Hollis of Kokomo. 

“I have family all across the country, so (COVID-19) has impacted everybody that I know and love,” Hollis said. “I’m grateful that I get a chance to do my part and be a part of something...we are modern-day Rosie the Riveters.” 

Hollis and the production team, which will grow to more than 1,000 men and women, including people who already work for GM and new hires from the Kokomo area, are also gaining hands-on exposure to Ventec’s ventilator. 

“Every ventilator we build can help save lives, and GM’s global supply base and manufacturing teams, the UAW, and the Kokomo community are working with passion and unwavering commitment to get the job done,” said Gerald Johnson, GM executive vice president, Global Manufacturing. “People have moved mountains to help increase production of Ventec’s critical care ventilator and we are just weeks away from delivering these lifesaving devices. I have never seen anything like it in my career.” 

Kokomo Mayor Tyler Moore said his community is more than ready to do its part, “At this critical moment in our country’s battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kokomo community applauds GM and Ventec leadership for joining the fight by producing much-needed medical ventilators here in their Kokomo facilities. At the same time, they have placed their trust in our community and the incredible Kokomo-area workforce. Kokomo is deeply honored to be a part of this extraordinary endeavor in these extraordinary times.”  

Saving Lives, Keeping People Safe 

To help protect people working at the Kokomo plant, extensive screening, cleaning and other CDC-recommended procedures will be in place. 

Arrival for Work: 

  • Everyone arriving for work will be required to sanitize their hands immediately upon arrival and have their temperature checked with a non-contact thermometer before entering the job site. 
  • Everyone will work their shift wearing medical-grade protective masks, including masks produced at GM’s Warren, Michigan facility.

At Work:

  • There will be a 30-minute interval between shifts to allow employees to clean their workstations when they arrive and again before they leave. 
  • There will be signage throughout the facility reminding team members to practice social distancing.
  • Each workstation will be manned by one person, and each workstation will be spaced at least six feet apart.
  • Cleaning crews will clean and sanitize common touch surfaces such as door handles, as well as common areas, at least three times per shift.

Between Shifts:

  • Initial production will begin with one shift, with second and third shifts added soon thereafter. 
  • Each shift will enter and exit through a different door to minimize social contact.

“The men and women building these ventilators raised their hands to help save the lives of people suffering from COVID-19,” said Dr. Jeffery E. Hess, GM corporate medical director. “We will create a safe workplace using CDC guidelines and scientific data.”

Strong Support from UAW Leadership 

The health and safety of every person who enters a GM facility is the top priority for GM and the UAW, especially as people come together to meet the country’s need for ventilators. 

“As our nation struggles with the COVID-19 pandemic, volunteer UAW-GM members are doing a tremendous service for our country by volunteering to come to work to make ventilators in Kokomo,” said Terry Dittes, vice president, UAW-GM Department. “For that reason, the UAW has worked with GM to put in place stringent CDC health and safety protocols. Our goal is to make sure that each and every day, people return home to their families and communities safe and healthy. We applaud their courage in volunteering in our nation’s time of need, and we commend GM for working with the UAW to save lives across this country.” 

Added Greg Wohlford, UAW Local 292 shop chairperson, “Our members responded to the call for help with courage and a desire to help America save its citizens’ lives. We have pledged, along with GM, to do everything we can to make sure that we keep these everyday heroes safe from illness and injury. The UAW is excited about working with Ventec and GM to produce ventilators in Kokomo, Indiana.” 

Phone Call Sets Into Motion 

The unprecedented teamwork that has allowed ventilator production in Kokomo to move forward so quickly began with a March 17 phone call between General Motors Chairman and CEO Mary Barra and representatives of StopTheSpread.Org, who suggested GM work with Ventec. was founded by Kenneth Chenault, chairman and managing director at General Catalyst and the former chief executive and chairman of American Express, and Rachel Romer Carlson, the chief executive and co-founder of Guild Education.

  • GM and Ventec executives had their first conference call on Wednesday, March 18 to explore how GM may be able to help Ventec increase ventilator production. 
  • The next day, a GM team flew to Seattle to meet with the Ventec team and roll up their sleeves to help.
  • On Friday, March 20, GM engaged its global supply base and within 72 hours, they had developed plans to source 100 percent of the necessary parts.
  • The UAW’s national and local leadership embraced the project and on Wednesday, March 25, crews began preparing the Kokomo site for production.
  • Mass production begins in mid-April. Production will quickly scale up to 10,000 critical care ventilators or more per month.
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