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Q&A: Sante Quebec board member on agency's goals, privatization concerns

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This week, Quebecers learned more about the province's new health-care management agency, Santé Québec.

Fifteen people have been named to the board of directors and one of them is Seeta Ramdass, a Montrealer with more than two decades of experience in the public health and education fields.

Christiane Germain, co-founder and co-president of the Germain Hotels chain, was named as the head of the board.

The head of Quebec's new health-care agency is Geneviève Biron, the former CEO of Biron Groupe Santé, which operates in private health care. The board's makeup has raised concerns this could be signaling a shift towards a more business-oriented approach and the privatization of the province's health-care system.

In her first interview since being named to the board, Ramdass responded to those concerns, telling CTV News that she believes the new agency is an opportunity to take the best practices in the private sector and transfer them into the public health-care network to make patient outcomes better.

"For example, in the private sector, you get the customer or the client's feedback on products and services and that feedback is what shapes how you improve those products and services. Well, we'll be hopefully doing the same thing with Santé Québec," she said.

"We're going to take patient experiences, patient feedback and we're going to use that to make sure that we make the effective changes that will improve the services to the patients and the communities in their socio-cultural contexts and realities of where they live."

Ramdass also spoke to CTV News about her background and how she hopes to apply it in her new role.

The text below has been edited for clarity and length. Watch the video above for the full interview.

CTV: Congratulations on this new role. A lot of people are just starting to get to know you. Even though you've been working behind the scenes in the health-care system for decades. Tell us a little bit more about the work you do now and your background in Montreal's health-care network.

RAMDASS: Currently, I'm the associate director for equity, diversity inclusion at the Faculty of Medicine at McGill in the Social Accountability and Community Engagement Office. It's a long title, but I am so proud to say that I'm actually a co-founder of that office. It's based on the work I did in the health-care network for more than two decades in health-care communications, where I was working for major health-care institutions doing media relations.

I was able to engage with the media, promoting all the wonderful clinical successes. I was at the MUHC early on before it had a website and tried to contribute to helping build that website and engaging with patients in the community to see what would you want on a website, when we were moving into that whole new world.

I really got to see firsthand how patients — especially those from marginalized communities, very vulnerable patients, minority group patients — how they struggled to get access to care. And it was important to me to really engage with them. And my belief was our hospitals are there to serve the patients. I'm a public servant, there to serve the patients. And so I built my relationships with patients and the community in order to provide service that was socio-culturally responsive to their diverse needs because Quebec is a diaspora of many diverse groups and communities.

CTV: Patient advocacy has been an important part of your work. What are you hoping to accomplish in your new role that maybe you weren't able to get to in your previous roles?

RAMDASS: We've been through so many different iterations of health-care reforms over the past couple of decades. I think recently with this pandemic that it really spotlighted the frailties in our health-care system. It also amplified all those different barriers to access to health care because we saw the most vulnerable communities were the ones who were the first to suffer and be the victims of COVID-19.

I think this advocacy that I've been doing for decades with wonderful groups like the Conseil Pour La Protection Des Malades and other patient community groups is an opportunity for me to work with what I consider a very good socio-culturally diverse representation of Quebec among the new members of the board of directors of Santé Québec. I think it's a snapshot of what the Quebec diaspora looks like now. And they're bringing a lot of different skill sets, there's a lot of interdisciplinarity. We need to try something new, we need to try some innovations. We see previous models have not worked.

CTV: I'd like to talk a little bit more about the composition of the board because obviously, there's been a lot of reaction to it since everyone was named. In fact, there was some reporting yesterday that suggested there's no anglophone representation on the board, but you can tell us that that's not the case?

RAMDASS: Absolutely. I am a Quebecer. I've lived here pretty much all my life and I am part of the Quebec community and I am comfortable navigating as a Quebecer among the francophone community of Quebec, among the anglophone [community], and among the socio-ethnic cultural communities of Quebec. As you can tell, I am quite perfectly comfortable speaking English. I'm actually a polyglot. So I speak multiple languages, French among them.

I feel like I'm a representative of what today's Quebecer looks like. Our Quebecers who are Gen Zs, they're speaking multiple languages. They're speaking French and English and some other third or fourth languages at home. I feel that I'm part of a very diverse community, and that I can relate to all these different voices, all these different experiences.

I have great colleagues that are from francophone communities and from anglophone communities and from socio-ethnic cultural communities. We're all converging with the same goal, that we want to see optimal care provided to every single person in Quebec.

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