New York State legislators moved forward to approve the nomination of acting Health Commissioner Mary Bassett Wednesday, Jan. 19, following hours-long confirmation hearings in the state Senate.
Governor Kathy Hochul picked Bassett to be the state’s next top doctor after former New York State Department of Health Commissioner Howard Zucker — a holdover from the Andrew Cuomo administration — stepped down on Dec. 1.
“Protecting and enhancing public health has always played a vital role in our state, but of course, we’re now at a moment in history when serving the public in this way could not be more important,” Bassett told state Senate committees during hours-long confirmation hearings on Jan. 19.
The veteran public health official was soon busy tackling the winter surge of the Omicron variant and even contacted COVID herself, she revealed on Dec. 20, although she said she felt fine and had been fully vaccinated, including a booster shot.
She has committed to making the Department more transparent, aiming to contrast her tenure with that of Zucker and the Cuomo administration, when state leaders notoriously lowballed nursing home deaths from the coronavirus.
Bassett previously served as New York City’s health commissioner under former Mayor Bill de Blasio from 2014-2018, when she managed the Big Apple’s responses to outbreaks of Ebola, Zika, and Legionnaires’ disease, while focusing on health disparities between white residents and people of color, an issue she has vowed to tackle statewide.
“With each crisis there were lessons to be learned, but probably the most important was the value of honesty and transparency, as well as the importance of collaboration within and between all levels of government,” she said.
She started her career working on AIDS prevention in Africa for more than a decade-and-a-half, before joining the city’s Health Department in 2002 as a deputy commissioner.
More recently Bassett worked as the director of Harvard University’s François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights.
State Senate committees voted to approve her nomination, which will come before the full upper chamber of the legislature for a final confirmation vote.