If anyone has known Ernst Kuipers in different roles, it is Rosmarin van Prochem Visser. Kuipers was her supervisor during her doctoral research completed last month.
I often thought, “Where does this guy find the time to mentor me? He had about 300,000 files on his plate, but he was also interested in a Ph.D. in medical ethics.”
If he starts something, he goes for it, that’s what van Prochem wants to say. “He really wanted to take my research even further. Not just commenting, but thinking constructively.”
You think he’s stubborn too. “Usually stubborn. I really think he would become a minister with the conviction to make things better.”
A friend from specialist training
My friend Jaap Vogtlow, whom he had known well for more than 30 years, was also not surprised that Kuipers became a minister. “He didn’t talk to me about it, but he gave a phenomenal glimpse of himself into the Corona approach and worked himself in the spotlight.”
The two had known each other since the first part of their specialized training. “We were in our late twenties and worked together at a hospital in Deventer. He worked hard, he really loved it. Tradition is our annual dinner with the group ever since. Ernst doesn’t want to miss that for anything. Not necessarily that he does. The supreme word, But he talks very easily and prefers not to talk too much about work.”
This hard work was instilled in him from an early age. Kuipers was raised in a Protestant family. His father was a general practitioner in a village in Flevoland, and his mother ran a pharmacy. “Ernst chose the GI angle,” Vogtlow says. “I became an internist.”
Kuipers has served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of Erasmus MC in Rotterdam for the past eight years. Professor and former associate Pauline Meyers has seen how much work he does. “As a manager, he built a whole new hospital with new infrastructure. And he mapped out a complete strategy for the hospital.”
His most important teacher as a doctor? “Introducing the Bowel Cancer Screening Program.”
Salary is down sharply
Morse also understands the transformation from her former classmate. “His second term is over here. He’s been at the top and has had an amazing career. Ernst would like to contribute to major societal challenges. It’s possible now. It’s also a complete and exciting reset.”
Meurs says he doesn’t do it for the money. “He’ll definitely have a pay cut.”
On Monday, Kuipers was sworn in as health minister. He has not yet become a member of the D66, although he has already co-wrote the sponsorship section of the party’s electoral manifesto.
In the coming period, eyes will mainly focus on the Kuipers’ Corona approach. Will he change everything with his “white coats” background?
His colleagues and acquaintances certainly expect him to leave his mark. “Ernst loves to make an impact,” Meurs says. “If he comes up with something and he can do it, it can happen quickly.” She told him in vain. “But in the sense that he likes others to see what he’s accomplished. He’s not bragging.”
Kuipers can put his own tone on the new government’s Corona policy, but he certainly doesn’t have the reins. Several ministers and prime ministers define policy.
OMT advice will remain so. Under former President Hugo de Jonge, this was often the guiding principle of policy, even if only to gain the support of the House of Representatives.
Good friend Fogteloo: “Kuipers is a professional and has more knowledge of the content. Nothing on De Jonge’s account, but he didn’t have that experience. In De Jonge I sometimes saw skepticism about the content, which made him set things up again Kuipers more certain of his case because of his knowledge” .
The college friend also expects that he can provide a stronger response, for example, to the health board. On the advice of the council, the promotion campaign began late. “If he had wanted the reinforcement to start sooner, Ernst would undoubtedly have persuaded the council.”
Diederik Gommers, an intensive Corona researcher and Kuipers Fellow at Erasmus MC, also anticipates a different approach. “Take OMT’s advice. This is sacred now and is now kept confidential. I expect Kuipers to clarify this further. Dare to make more private decisions, without violating this advice.”
Having been sworn in, Kuipers himself said he wanted to look at the approach to the Corona crisis from a broader perspective and not just in the field of health care. He also wants to take into account other aspects, such as economic aspects, in his decisions. In addition to the RIVM model, he also wants to use other models to coordinate Corona policy.
Gommers understand this consideration. “In hospitals, we consider life and death every day. It’s not just care that is central here. After all, you have to do the work with your staff and that includes choices. All kinds of aspects play a role.”
He describes Kuipers as “highly results-oriented”. “He’s always cheerful and very important: he never babbles.” What if the Gommers didn’t want the job himself? “It’s great to think about the big issues, but it also involves a lot of meetings. I’m not really into that.”
There are also concerns. Does the former doctor survive the political climate? “Acting has to start in a different environment,” Gummers says. “The political world is really different from the hospital world.”
What can go wrong? “In our world, it’s easier to go back to something. We work on a progressive insight. You can tweak your plan if you have more knowledge. But in politics you can’t go back easily, it seems. You can get there caught fast.”
Rosmarin van Prochem wonders how the world will end in The Hague. “Through my collaboration and as a moderator, I know how Kuipers like numbers and statistics. Your research should be correct, and you shouldn’t tamper with facts. He doesn’t like nonsense.”
What would it be like in the House of Representatives, where MPs can sometimes lash out like unguided projectiles? “He won’t tolerate conspiracy theories,” explained a student friend Vogtlow.
A little patience
Pauline Morse, a senator, believes that the political world should not be too complex. “People are a bit hysterical about the world in The Hague. As if it was something completely different. Maybe not that bad. It’s basically about enjoying that political arena and at what points you want and don’t want to give in. This is a entrust to Ernst.”
Morse sees his great urgency as a pitfall: “He is demanding of himself, but also of others. That can become difficult.”
PVV’er Fleur Agema – known for its critical input on Corona – says he has high expectations from Kuipers. The deputy has already exhausted five health ministers.
“Corona policy has to be completely different. We can’t go from lockdown to shutdown. We can invest that money much better in hospital capacity.”
The doctor is not yet a minister
She knows Kuipers from technical briefings and describes him as calm and friendly. “I believe he must honor the agreements he made in his previous position. So he will have to address the shortfall in the hospital’s capacity, something he said during a technical briefing. He must remain credible.”
Agema often disagreed with his predecessor Hugo de Jong. “But he has tremendous knowledge of the file. With Kuipers I must first see him, then believe him. A doctor does not make you a minister.”
baptism of fire
Friday is the first great baptism of fire for the Kuipers: his first press conference. Study friend Fogteloo says Kuipers don’t necessarily like the spotlight.
“But he’s not afraid. He often appears on TV seriously. In real life he is much more gentle.”
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