Governor Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday she will appoint Dr. Mary Bassett, who previously served as New York City’s health commissioner, to serve New York state in the same capacity — taking over for outgoing agency chief Howard Zucker on Dec. 1.
“Our recovery from this pandemic requires tested leadership and experience to improve health equity and access across the state, and Dr. Bassett is perfectly equipped to lead the New York State Department of Health during this critical moment,” Hochul said Sept. 29.
A three-decade veteran in the health field, Bassett previously led the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene under Mayor Bill de Blasio from 2014-2018 and currently works as the director Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights.
During her work for the city, she led the response to Ebola, Legionnaires’ disease and other outbreaks, while focusing on health disparities between white residents and New Yorkers of color.
The longtime health expert said she will target racial inequities in public health revealed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The pandemic underscored the importance of public health, while also revealing inequities driven by structural racism. As we move to end the pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to create a state that is more equitable for all New Yorkers,” Bassett said in a statement. “I look forward to working toward this with Governor Hochul and the team at the Department of Health.”
She will replace Zucker, who announced his resignation last week; he had been a longtime appointee of disgraced ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo.
Zucker drew controversy earlier this year when a damning State Attorney General’s report found the Cuomo administration underreported nursing home deaths due to COVID.
He also ordered patients infected with the virus back into the care facilities early on in the pandemic.
Basset’s work for the city Health Department dates back as far as 2002, when she served as deputy commissioner for health promotion and disease prevention, where she led the nation’s first calorie posting requirement and trans fat restrictions.
During that time she also launched so-called District Public Health Offices in neighborhoods harmed by racial and economic health inequities.
In her early career, she worked on AIDS prevention measures in Africa on the medical faculty at the University of Zimbabwe for 17 years before joining the Rockefeller Foundation’s Southern Africa Office as associate director of health equity.
Bassett grew up in New York City and received a B.A. in History and Science from Harvard University, an M.D. from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, and an M.P.H. from the University of Washington.