March 27, 2020 – Philomena Flaherty had a feeling she would play a role in the global effort to mobilize against COVID-19.
Flaherty works at a Medtronic facility in Galway, Ireland, where she makes a key component of the company’s high-performance Puritan Bennett™ 980 ventilator. When COVID-19 started spreading in China, Flaherty realized demand for the devices she has made for years would soon surge. “I always knew it would come to our door,” she said.
High-performance ventilators play a critical role in the management of patients with severe respiratory illness, such as COVID-19, who require assistance because they cannot breathe effectively. By placing a patient on a ventilator, the patient’s lungs are permitted to rest and recover while the ventilator performs the functions of supplying oxygen and simulating the actions of breathing.
These days, the facility where Flaherty works is busy — and only getting busier. Medtronic has ramped up production of ventilators by more than 40 percent, increasing capacity to make and supply the devices to hospitals globally.
Such a significant increase in production doesn’t come easily, especially amid a global pandemic. It has required hundreds of employees to work in new ways and strong coordination across the company’s business groups. “We had done some ramp-ups previously on a small scale and in small bursts to test supply chain, but nobody could have planned for this scenario,” said Richard Taylor, senior supply chain manager at the Medtronic Mervue facility in Galway.
Demand for ventilators across the world is extreme and continuing to grow. Ventilators can be lifesaving devices in managing COVID-19, and healthcare systems need many more than are available today. Medtronic employees are working to fulfill that need, while maintaining focus on personal safety and product quality.
At the Medtronic Minimally Invasive Therapies Group (MITG) facility in Mervue — where Puritan Bennett™ ventilators are manufactured — safety is the first thing managers discuss every day, Taylor said. There are washing stations and managers reinforce social distancing and personal hygiene guidelines. Desks have been moved apart. Employees can only walk one way through corridors, helping them maintain distance from one another. And Galway teams who can work from home are doing so. Taylor and other leaders encourage employees to ask questions and get support when they need it — for both their physical and mental health.
Like people around the world, Medtronic employees who make ventilators are worried about COVID-19 and how it could affect their health and the health of their families. Flaherty said she, too, is fearful of the novel coronavirus. However, she also knows she plays an important role in helping others and fulfilling the Medtronic Mission. “I love what I do, and every time I come into work, I know I am making a difference,” she said. “Every single day somebody, somewhere in the world, is depending on me to do my job properly. I know I’m saving lives."
Employees at the Mervue site working hard to increase manufacturing will soon get more help. From three miles away, employees of the Medtronic Cardiac and Vascular Group’s (CVG) Parkmore site in Galway are joining the effort to increase production.
CVG builders, engineers, and quality teams have joined the Mervue team. The collaboration, Taylor said, has allowed the businesses to learn about one another — and from one another — in new ways.
“Our Mission is what connects us — this has a lot of meaning. We know why we come to work every day,” Taylor said. “If we widen the product knowledge, there may be times in the future when we need to call on Mervue to support Parkmore.”
As demand for ventilators grows, the partnership between teams is expanding beyond manufacturing — and outside Ireland.
In Spain, for instance, Cardiac Rhythm and Heart Failure employees recently stepped up to help carefully review and test ventilators before sending them out to customers.
“We’re seeing historic demand for ventilators being generated around the world,” said Bob White, Medtronic executive vice president and MITG president . “This is an unprecedented human challenge, and it’s requiring an unprecedented response from Medtronic.”