BENTON HARBOR — In the midst of a growing coronavirus pandemic in the U.S., Whirlpool Corp. announced Friday that the company is providing medical supplies to Spectrum Health Lakeland as the hospital system gears up for expected patients.

The announcement was made in a news conference at the appliance maker’s global headquarters, where Whirlpool CEO Marc Bitzer and Spectrum Health Lakeland President Loren Hamel discussed the charitable effort.

“We’re all going through turbulent times as we are in uncharted waters. The coronavirus didn’t come with an instruction manual. Not for hospitals or businesses,” Bitzer said. “We need to do what we can to support the front lines.”

Through its procurement division, Whirlpool was able to obtain medical supplies that were in high demand and in short supply. Bitzer said its the first step of more to come.

Based on what arrived in the past two days, Lakeland will receive 192 6-ounce containers of hand sanitizer, 252 24-ounce containers of hand soap and more than 100,000 medical gloves. Bitzer said more gloves and ear-loop masks – for adults and children – are expected next week.

Kyle Murawski, manager for indirect procurement at Whirlpool, said their team worked with the company’s international procurement organization for a global reach on finding the supplies.

“We supported China from day one and they have repaid the favor,” Murawski said, in reference to the thousands of masks that Whirlpool sent to China when COVID-19 first began to spread across the country.

Hamel thanked Whirlpool for helping protect the hospital’s “ground troops who are in the line of fire.”

“The generosity, the compassion, the skill and the confidence of Whirlpool in helping to take care of the health care of this region is just phenomenal,” Hamel said. “Health care systems that have been confronted by the virus on their own turf are running out of supplies.

While COVID-19 has not yet been identified in the community, Hamel said he believes there are people who are test-pending that will have the virus.

“Within a few days I am certain we will be making that announcement,” he said. “Even before that arrives we can’t get enough supplies to get ready for that anticipated battle. I am confident that the supplies you have helped provide will save lives in this community.”

Whirlpool’s effort to get supplies to Lakeland began when the company was working to protect its employees.

Bitzer said the company has been dealing with COVID-19 for awhile since there is a factory about 200 miles from Wuhan, China – the city considered to be ground zero for coronavirus – as well as the quarantine that affected the company’s European headquarters in Italy.

“It made us very mindful about what was coming, so we were maybe a little better prepared than most companies,” Bitzer said. “...I’m not trying to make a political statement, but we didn’t want to count on CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) masks. We will protect the masks for our people in critical front-line jobs in our factories. That’s when we built a strategic reserve.”

When European hospitals began to run out of supplies, Bitzer said they reached out to Lakeland officials to see how they could “use the company’s muscle” to help the hospital.

The medical supplies come from multiple locations, as Bitzer said it was a group effort in getting the supplies to the U.S.

“The domestic supply is short. That’s a reality,” Bitzer said. “I know everybody’s scrambling to drive production.”

Contact: twittkowski@TheHP.com, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski