Lawmakers in the Canadian parliament’s lower chamber have found out that a refund on unused ventilators is unlikely. The government operations committee of the Canadian House of Commons scrutinized the purchase of ventilators worth 700 million Canadian dollars (about US$556 million). It discovered that around 98 percent of the purchased machines were in storage, as hospitals did not need them for COVID-19 patients.
Members of the Commons’ Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates were told that only 27,025 ventilators were delivered out of a total order of 40,557 units. Of these, only about 500 ventilators were used. Despite this, Blacklocks Reporter pointed out that payment for the ventilators – now stored in a warehouse – will not be refunded.
Bloc Québécois Member of Parliament Julie Vignola questioned Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand if the government would be reimbursed “at the end of the day” for the unused ventilators. The minister gave an unclear answer, saying: “We have a commitment with the manufacturers.” Unsatisfied with the answer, the MP for Beauport-Limoilou in Quebec continued to press Anand for a “yes or no” answer.
Anand then replied that the Canadian government had received “over 27,000 ventilators.” She then added that her department is now working to halt the deliveries of the remaining ventilators. She acknowledged Vignola’s concern toward taxpayers’ money, remarking that she also has “the Canadian taxpayers’ interests at heart.”
Conservative MP Pierre Paul-Hus remarked: “We are looking at 25,000 [ventilators] that are useless.” The legislator representing the Charlesbourg-Haute St. Charles district in Quebec province continued that the remaining ventilators yet to be delivered translate to CA$375 million (US$298 million) in potential savings. “That’s the equivalent of taxes paid by 25,000 middle-income Canadians,” Paul-Hus said.
The Canadian government spent CA$720 million (US$572 million) for the ventilators without asking for competitive bids. The Public Health Agency of Canada and Minister of Health Patty Hajdu provided the sole-sourced contracts, enabling purchase of the machines. (Related: Overreliance on ventilators led to coronavirus deaths, study shows.)
The federal health department enlisted three firms to provide the ventilators. Two Montreal-based companies – Baylis Medical Company and CAE Inc. – were awarded contracts worth CA$282.5 million (US$224.6 million). Ontario firm Thornhill Medical won a third CA$200.5 million (US$159.4 million) contract for the ventilators.
According to Anand, it was unclear how many ventilators would be needed in preparation for any eventuality. During the early days of the pandemic, ventilators were endorsed as a vital tool in addressing the possible surge in emergency room cases – which never materialized. “These contracts were put in place a year ago prior to the information coming forward that we may now know,” the minister for procurement said. (Related: Coronavirus patients laid face down on ventilator may suffer permanent nerve damage.)
Canada’s excess supply of ventilators would have been of assistance to the U.S. state of New York, which suffered a shortage of these medical machines. Back in April 2020, Gov. Andrew Cuomo revealed that the state only had 2,200 ventilators in its stockpile. With 350 units required every day for critically ill patients infected with COVID-19, it would take “about six days” before the stocks are used up.
“Right now, we have a burn rate of about six days in the stockpile. We have extraordinary measures in place that can make a difference if we run into a real ventilator shortage,” Cuomo said that time. However, he warned that any increase in that burn rate will definitely use up all the remaining ventilators in the state.
Cuomo’s remarks came after his office released 400 ventilators for hospitals in New York City and an additional 200 for hospitals in Long Island and Westchester. He commented: “I can say with confidence [that] we have researched every possibility, every idea … [and every] measure you can possibly take to find ventilators.”
Visit Pandemic.news to read more news about the use of ventilators on patients struck with COVID-19.