Health Canada Sells $170M Worth of COVID-19 Ventilators for ‘Scrap Metal’

by EditorK

Le My Hanh with a ventilator in hospital scrubs. (Courtesy of Le My Hanh)

Matthew Horwood
By Matthew Horwood 

COVID-19 ventilators purchased under a $169.5 million contract by Canada’s health agency have been sold as scrap metal, according to government records.

New ventilator parts in unopened shipping cartons bearing the Canadian Emergency Ventilators branding were auctioned off during a three-month period ending in February 2023, according to records obtained by Blacklock’s Reporter. The ventilators were bought by the Public Health Agency of Canada under a sole-sourced contract.

The ventilator parts were sold for as little as $6 a carton out of a warehouse in Concord, Ont., by GC Surplus. The Canadian Emergency Ventilators were listed as “scrap metal.”

“Canadian companies are answering the call,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in back in 2020 when praising StarFish Medical, a manufacturer of Canadian Emergency Ventilators. “This is exactly the kind of innovative and collaborative thinking we need.”

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries scrambled to secure enough ventilators to help those experiencing health complications from the respiratory virus. But the introduction of COVID-19 vaccines, coupled with the discovery that elderly patients did not fare well on ventilators, meant their usage declined in late 2020.

Back in June 2022, more than 40,000 ventilators the Canadian government had ordered earlier in the pandemic were sitting unused in the federal emergency stockpile. Just over 2,000 of them had been deployed in Canada or abroad.

$22,600 per Ventilator

The Department of Public Works would not say how much it paid for the devices, and said in a statement that it did not take delivery of all ventilators it ordered, according to Blacklock’s. A spokesperson added that while the initial value of the contract was $15,820,000, it would not disclose the price per unit or total number purchased to “protect commercial confidentiality.”

Back in 2020, the House of Commons ethics committee was told the $169.5 million contract allows the government to acquire 7,500 devices, the equivalent of $22,600 per unit. At an industry committee meeting in 2020, StarFish Vice President John Walmsley said it had “not been a cheap enterprise.”

“In order to deliver a safe product fast we have paid for contingencies that we have not necessarily needed,” Mr. Walmsley said. “We have custom machined parts in Canada rather than ordering ready-made parts from overseas but we still needed to source some key components internationally.”

Mr. Walmsley also said the company assigned “over 30 design engineers” to speed up development of the ventilators. StarFish Medical in a 2021 statement said the machines were “absolutely outstanding.”

“StarFish Medical designed a Health Canada certified ventilator in six months, normally a multi-year effort,” it said.

Matthew Horwood is a reporter based in Ottawa. 


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