Medtronic CEO on answering the call for ventilators in the early days of COVID-19

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Geoff Martha became CEO of Minneapolis-based Medtronic in April 2020, a pivotal time to begin leading a medical device company.

The COVID-19 pandemic had hit the U.S. a month earlier, and Medtronic was receiving an unprecedented number of requests for ventilators from all over the world. The company dropped everything to meet the demand.

"At first there was confusion because there's different devices out there that just don't actually modulate your lungs — things like CPAP machines," Mr. Martha said. "People realized pretty quickly that that's not what we're looking for. Critical care ventilators are what is really needed for sick COVID patients. So that narrowed it down to six or seven players around the world. We were one of the two biggest, I'd say."

The companies banded together for resources and formed the Ventilator Training Alliance, a digital app consisting of product instructions and training tools for front-line healthcare workers.

Medtronic also partnered with Intel to add a remote control functionality to its ventilators so healthcare workers could operate them from safe distances.

Though the need for ventilators has lessened as the pandemic wanes, the demand has yet to return to normal levels.

Mr. Martha said the company continues to focus on innovation and launch new products for patients with conditions like heart disease, diabetes and Parkinson's.

He said of his time as a new CEO in the early days of COVID-19, "It was a trying time, but a big moment for the company in terms of how we responded."

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