Coronavirus: Local companies make ventilators, face shields and donate them to Alberta Health Services

Alberta Health Services is receiving 200 ventilators, designed by a group of local companies, to bolster the province’s supply during the COVID-19 pandemic and ahead of any future waves.

Exergy Solutions, an engineering consulting company in Calgary, worked around the clock to design ventilators that were just approved by Health Canada. Suncor funded the project.

The Alberta E-Vent, nicknamed “Bertie,” is an automated resuscitator intended for short-term respiratory support, monitoring and treatment of adult patients when a conventional ventilator is unavailable, Exergy Solutions explained.

It will give hospitals expanded capacity to treat patients and will mean conventional ventilators can be used on high-needs patients.

The company partnered with Strategic Clinical Networks and the University of Calgary on several urgent projects with AHS in response to the novel coronavirus.

Before COVID-19, Exergy was helping the energy sector develop cleaner technologies.

“We’re really good at pivoting,” Ian Buchanan, vice-president of Technical Services with Exergy Solutions, said.

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“When COVID hit, we said: ‘How do we take the skill set we have… How do we make things to help solve these problems?’”

The company first reached out to AHS, then Suncor offered its financial support. The network then started to grow.

“We have some great manufacturing here in Alberta,” Buchanan said.

Other companies got onboard; Laser Equation in Calgary, Catch Engineering, PLC Electronic Solutions in Vancouver, Global Power Technologies in Bassano, and Logican Technologies in Edmonton will complete the final assembly of the ventilators next week.

“These ventilators are an Alberta success story,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said, adding they were built and approved in just six weeks.

“So far our health system has been able to cope with the COVID-19 demand,” he said. The donation will ensure Alberta is well-positioned as it moves forward with the relaunch plan.

Exergy Solutions also designed a 3D-printed face shield for general healthcare use. It’s also been approved by Health Canada and can be reused.

“The face shield can be worn in conjunction with other PPE to ensure ultimate protection for the service industry and front-line healthcare workers,” the company says on its website.

Dr. Braden Manns, associate chief medical officer with AHS Strategic Clinical Networks, said this is an example of AHS, Alberta Health, manufacturers, universities and other partners in industry working together in a collaborative way to address a real need.

Six weeks ago, as Alberta health officials watched the crisis in places like Italy, ventilators were incredibly important. Manns said Alberta didn’t want to be in a position where hospital staff were forced to triage patients.

Ventilators and personal protective equipment were among the medical products in highest demand, he said. Manns also said the demand for ventilators could increase as society begins to reopen.

Alberta initially dedicated 350 ventilators to the COVID-19 response. Shandro said the province has since dropped that number to 200, and there are 200 dedicated ICU beds for COVID-19 as well.

The team at the University of Calgary dedicated three people from its lab to the ventilator project; five others were tasks with creating 3D-printed face shields.

“Everyone was working outside of their regular area of expertise,” said Shaun Gair, a graduate student from the U of C’s engineering school.

“People that normally work on rockets… were figuring out how to source materials.”

“It was definitely a diverse effort from people who were all working outside their comfort zones and everyone was able to transition really well.”

Buchanan described the team as “work horses” and thanked them for their work.

Exergy and Suncor are exploring the possibility of expanding production to help fight the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

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