Former NYC Health Commissioner Named to Lead State Department
(Bloomberg) -- New York Governor Kathy Hochul appointed Mary Bassett to serve as state health commissioner and oversee its recovery from the coronavirus pandemic. Bassett would become New York’s first Black health commissioner.
Bassett, who led New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene from 2014 to 2018, is slated to begin the state job in an acting capacity on Dec. 1, according to a statement from Hochul’s office. She will replace Howard Zucker, who was central to allegations that former Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration covered up Covid nursing-home deaths. Zucker resigned on Sept. 23.
Hochul, who took office in August, has made several appointments in recent weeks as she clears her administration of those connected to the scandal-plagued Cuomo. The three-term Democrat resigned on Aug. 23 after a state Attorney General report corroborated 11 allegations of sexual harassment. Cuomo has denied the claims.
Decisions of the Cuomo administration and health department under Zucker came under fire after Attorney General Letitia James released a report in January showing officials undercounted Covid-related deaths in New York nursing homes by as much as 50%. The report also detailed a lack of compliance with infection-control policies at many nursing homes on Zucker’s watch.
Zucker and Cuomo have denied the allegations.
Read more here: N.Y. Health Commissioner Exits Amid Criticism Over Nursing Homes
Bassett is currently director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University and FXB Professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights in the department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
As New York City’s health commissioner, Bassett made racial justice a priority, according to Hochul’s statement. She also led the department’s response to Ebola and other disease outbreaks.
State Senator Gustavo Rivera, a Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, lauded the appointment of Bassett. She is an “absolutely fantastic choice,” he said, adding that she’s “incredibly respected and insanely qualified.”
Rivera said he believes Bassett can refocus the health department, which had become highly politicized under the Cuomo administration.
Her first priority should be tackling the pandemic, Rivera said, but she should also focus on restaffing the department. Given that much of her professional life has been about health-care disparity, Bassett’s appointment also provides the opportunity for real conversations about investments in the state’s health-care system, he said.
Though Bassett’s appointment is effective Dec. 1, she must still be confirmed by the state Senate, which isn’t scheduled to return to Albany until January.
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