Bloom Energy, with Stanford Health Care and Almo, fixing broken ventilators to treat COVID-19 patients


Ritu Jha-

Amid the pandemic‘s rising coronavirus cases in the various US states, the Trump administration has been trying to send ventilators to the states facing a shortage of healthcare equipment and manpower.

California has recorded the third-largest number of coronavirus infections in the past few weeks, and that has caused strain in the state’s hospitals because of the lack of proper equipment and medical staff. Recently, as part of Trump’s initiative, around 170 ventilators were sent to California, but according to a statement from Gov. Gavin Newsom, none of the devices worked. Ventilators are mechanical breathing devices, critical to treating COVID-19, a respiratory illness that causes breathing difficulties.

Holding a news conference  on Saturday to talk about the state’s efforts to curb the infections, Newsom said that though the federal Department of Health and Human Services had sent 170 ventilators to Los Angeles County straight from the federal stockpile, it was later found that all the mechanical breathing devices were broken.

“Rather than complaining about it, rather than pointing fingers about it … We got a car and a truck, we had those 170 taken to a facility,” Newsom said at a Bloom Energy facility in Sunnyvale, California, the company working on fixing the ventilators.

Founded by Tamil Nadu, India-native K.R. Sridhar, Bloom Energy Corp., based in San Jose, California, is not a medical device manufacturing company but offers clean on-site energy through fuel-cell technology.

“We are helping because we truly believe that all Americans should come together to do their part to assist in this time of national crisis,” Chief Operations Officer Susan Brennan told indica. “Manufacturing is in our DNA – we have the capability, the skill set to repair complex technical equipment, and the willingness –  and the very real need for these ventilators exists today.”

When asked how the work has been going since Bloom Energy has taken the challenging task, Brennan said, “Work is going very well. We were able to ramp up quite quickly in Sunnyvale, Calif., and in Newark, Delaware. and anticipate being able to refurbish 1,000 ventilators a week across our operations if we have supply of ventilators. We continue to actively seek additional supply.”

The company said the refurbished ventilators have remained within California, as that is where the initial supply has come from.

“We are also working with Delaware, where we have another manufacturing facility and have secured an initial supply of 36 ventilators from the state. We are working with the Delaware Emergency Management Agency to identify others and have partnered with a distributor that has a nationwide network – so we stand ready to repair and send ventilators wherever they are needed,” Brennan said, adding they are receiving the ventilators from both the states of California and Delaware and have offered support to other state agencies and hospitals.

As part of speeding up the process, Bloom Energy announced they have partnered with Philadelphia-based Almo Corporation, a national distributor of major appliances, consumer electronics, housewares and professional AV equipment.

Newsom,  lauding Sridhar’s support, said: “This is a great story about Californians looking out for each other. Ventilators provide the most effective intervention for COVID-19 patients in critical care, and the units being refurbished here will save lives.”

According to media reports California had approximately 7,500 ventilators across its hospital systems and has secured 4,252 more ventilators, out of which 1,000 need repair to make them usable.

California Public Health reported as of March 31 there were a total of 8,155 positive cases and 171 deaths in California – the third-highest number of cases in the US. Although the spread of infection is the highest in New York, on Saturday Newsom said the number of coronavirus patients in California’s intensive care unit doubled overnight.

Sridhar received a bachelor’s in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Madras, now known as  NIT, Trichy, India, and his master’s in Nuclear Engineering and Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, according to Bloom’s website.