COVID Crisis Management with Inge Neven

Author: Valentine Dautricourt

One year ago, Inge Neven joined QuantIM - the network of seasoned independent professionals of Quanteus Group and BrightWolves. She immediately started an assignment as Crisis Manager corona Test&Trace at CoCom in Brussels. She is the general responsible for the Covid administration that is related to the Brussels government. Inge works for ministers Maron, Vervoort, and Van den Brandt, responsible for managing the project and the administration that executes decisions made by different government bodies. In an interview, she shares her story as Crisis Manager at the heart of the pandemic!


How does it feel to work right at the heart of a topic we are all surrounded with?

It’s both fascinating and very challenging. The project’s enormous societal impact is why I really am happy I took up this challenge. It has now been more than a year, which I never expected. The contracts are continuously being prolonged, and now we’re a team of more than 90 people (I have recruited more than 70 consultants and 8 internal people in one year). In addition, the political context that goes into this project is completely new for me; you soon learn how to navigate these things and find good working practices.

How did your role evolve alongside the evolutions of this pandemic?

When I started, I was the head of the health inspection team, which is still the case. But this team only consisted of four people who were working at CoCom; we joined in with a team of 5 consultants at that time. They were responsible for the follow-up of the existing clusters and limiting the propagation of the virus. The very first thing I did was figuring out how to set priorities when many clusters were appearing. Next, we set up the call center just one week after my arrival. The key goal was to contain different clusters in elderly homes, schools, companies as best as possible.

A few weeks later, we already had to think about preventing a second wave. I then had to conceptualize how to construct a team that you can extend and reduce depending on the severity of the pandemic. In the meantime, we noticed a demand for tests to be able to go on vacation. But the hospitals refused to test holidaymakers since they argued that their duty lay towards the sick, not healthy people. So I organized alternative test facilities. Firstly, we set up a temporary collaboration with the hospitals. Then, very quickly, we created eight test centers in the Brussels region with the municipalities and other organizations like the Red Cross and some hospitals. In the meantime, they perform tests for symptomatic and asymptomatic people.

In November, we arrived at the third phase: the vaccination campaign. We had to start from scratch as vaccination is a competence transferred in the 6th state reform, just before the crisis. On top of this, we had very little information about the quantity of the vaccines, how they could be administered, who would be eligible, and how we could organize this campaign. In three months, I recruited twenty people to help set up the ten vaccination centers for our region, which are again managed operationally by the municipalities, some hospitals, and the Red Cross.

We also had to launch a sensibilization campaign, which is vital in a big metropole city like Brussels (did you know Brussels is the 2nd biggest metropole in the world after Dubai? With 174 nationalities, about 30% of persons without access to the health system and a very high digital fracture), with many people being difficult to reach. Its goal is to ensure everybody gets vaccinated in vaccination centers, local antennas with sensibilization on the weekly markets, or at home.

In parallel, as the new variants started popping up, we had to find out how to adjust our testing, tracing, and vaccination strategy.

Now that we’ve put the basics in place, we need to maintain everything we’ve created and sustainably implement it in the health system of the Brussels area. The idea is to manage disease prevention and control in our region, and create equitable access to healthcare for everyone. I’ve had this idea in the back of my mind from the get-go. The objective is to step by step create a sustainable system where a basic team can ensure day-to-day operations. And then, when another crisis might arrive, they can create partnerships and recruit external people to manage the broader picture we’ve been setting up now.

You are designing a strategy to implement very quickly in this fast-changing context. What is the main challenge from going from strategy to implementation in that setup?