ALBANY (WENY) – New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday Dr. Mary Bassett, MD, MPH, has been appointed the new Commissioner of Health for the state.
Dr. Bassett’s appointment comes nearly a week after Dr. Howard Zucker announced his resignation from the role. Dr. Zucker had faced widespread calls to resign over his involvement in the Cuomo Administration’s handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes. As the health commissioner, Dr. Zucker was in charge of the controversial nursing home policy in which some COVID-19 patients were placed in nursing homes with room at the beginning of the pandemic to free up hospital space. Zucker was also tied up in the scandal in which the Cuomo administration withheld the true number of COVID-19 deaths within nursing homes.
Dr. Bassett has more than 30 years of experience spanning academia, government and not-for-profit work. She currently serves as director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) 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.
“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,” Governor Hochul said. “When I was sworn in as Governor, I pledged to build a talented team with the skills, knowledge, and expertise to stop the spread of COVID-19, return our lives to normalcy, and move our state forward. Dr. Bassett is both a highly regarded public health expert and an exemplary public servant, and I look forward to working with her to keep New Yorkers safe and healthy.”
Previously, Dr. Bassett served as the commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene from 2014 through 2018. There, he is credited with making “racial justice a priority and worked to address the structural racism at the root of the city’s persistent gaps in health between white New Yorkers and communities of color”. She also led the Department’s response to Ebola, Legionnaires’ Disease and other outbreaks.
In 2002, Dr. Bassett was appointed deputy commissioner of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention in New York City. In that role, she led the division responsible for the city’s tobacco control interventions and food policy, including the first-in-the-nation calorie posting requirements and trans fat restrictions. From 2009 to 2014, she also served as the program director for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s African Health Initiative and Child Well-Being Prevention Program.
“I am humbled and honored to return to my home state of New York to lead the Department of Health at this pivotal time,” Dr. Bassett said. “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. I look forward to working toward this with Governor Hochul and the team at the Department of Health.”
Earlier in her career, Dr. Bassett served on the medical faculty at the University of Zimbabwe for 17 years. During that time, she developed “a range of AIDS prevention interventions”. After that, she served as the associate director of health equity at the Rockefeller Foundations’ Southern Africa Office. Upon returning to the U.S., she was a faculty member at Columbia University.
Dr. Bassett grew up in New York City and received a B.A. in History and Science from Harvard, an M.D. from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons and an M.P.H. from the University of Washington.
She has wone a number of awards and honors including: the Frank A. Calderone Prize in Public Health, a Kenneth A. Forde Lifetime Achievement Award from Columbia University, a Victoria J. Mastrobuono Award for Women’s Health, and the National Organization for Women’s Champion of Public Health Award. She has also been elected a member of the National Academy of Medicine. She also served as an associate editor of the American Journal of Public Health.
Dr. Bassett’s appointment is effective December 1.