Winnipeg company cranks out ventilator parts amid COVID-19 pandemic

A Winnipeg manufacturer is working around the clock to fill orders for some of the most sought-after medical equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

'Everybody wants a ventilator. Everybody': BomiMed owner

This ventilator at Humber River Hospital is one of about 1,300 across Ontario. A Winnipeg company is working to distribute and make parts for ventilators during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

A Winnipeg manufacturer is working around the clock to fill orders for some of the most sought-after medical equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

BomiMed not only distributes ventilators for a Swiss company — it makes hoses and other components for them.

Owner David Olivier said his manufacturing staff are "busier than they've ever been."

The 60 to 70 people who work for the company are doing what they can to keep up with orders, which have exploded in the three weeks since coronavirus cases started spreading across North America. 

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"Everybody wants a ventilator. Everybody," Olivier said. 

"We've even had, believe it or not, individuals — personal individuals — call us and ask us if we would sell them a ventilator, so it's a little crazy out there."

The wait time for the company to get orders out is now about six months. Usually, it takes BomiMed four to five months to fill orders, Olivier said. 

BomiMed staff in Winnipeg manufacture and distribute critical medical equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Submitted by David Olivier)

"We will increase production but we just cannot guarantee anyone a specific delivery date," he said. 

Olivier said he could see this coming at the end of 2019, when coronavirus cases started multiplying in China. 

"I tried to raise a bit of alarm bells across Canada with my sales and marketing team, just saying, you know, I think we should be jumping on this and our hospitals should be a little bit more proactive," he said. 

"And we just couldn't rally enough people to really think that it was going to happen."

Watch Janet Stewart's interview with David Olivier:

'Everybody wants a ventilator'

CBC News Manitoba

1 year ago
BomiMed owner David Olivier speaks with CBC Manitoba's Janet Stewart. 4:28

Like so many Canadians practising social distancing, a lot of BomiMed ​​​​​staff are now working from home — including Olivier, who is self-isolating after returning from a vacation in Florida. 

"And for the last two weeks I was in Florida, I would actually get up in the morning at seven, had my coffee and by the time I was off the phone it was later at night," he said. 

"So it wasn't really enjoying the sun in Florida as I'd like. I didn't envision it that way."

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Another challenge in getting ventilators out is the reduction in flights, Olivier said. 

The company  is working with the federal government to find ways to secure transportation of the much-needed equipment.

The  federal government estimates there are about 5,000 ventilators in the country, Canada's deputy chief public health officer, Dr. Howard Njoo, said at a news conference Saturday.

Depending on the trajectory of the virus, Canada might need anywhere from "1,000 to 3,000 or 5,000," Njoo said.

South of the border, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has said his state needs 30,000 but only has a few thousand.

With files from Meaghan Ketcheson and Alexander Panetta