Dr. Mary T. Bassett has been appointed Commissioner of the Department of Health for New York State, with Governor Kathy Hochul saying Bassett has the “skills, knowledge, and expertise” to lead the state back to normalcy following the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bassett is no stranger to the commissioner role, having served as New York City’s Health Commissioner under Mayor Bill de Blasio from 2014-2018, where she led the Department’s response to Ebola, Legionnaires’ disease and other disease outbreaks.

Bassett has more than 30 years of experience promoting health equity and social justice, both in the United States and abroad, and her career has spanned academia, government and not-for-profit work.

Hochul said the recovery from the pandemic required tested leadership and experience to improve health equity and access across the state, adding Bassett was equipped to during this “critical moment.”

“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.” 

Bassett, who currently serves as a director and a professor at the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, said she was “humbled and honored to return to my home state of New York to lead the Department of Health at this pivotal time.”

“The pandemic underscored the importance of public health, while also revealing inequities driven by structural racism,” she said.

“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.”

The announcement follows the resignation of Dr. Howard Zucker last week. According to Gothamist, sources in the state’s health department said that Zucker contributed to the toxic culture emanating from Cuomo’s executive chamber and said he was a poor communicator of major health policy decisions to employees and local health departments alike.

American Medical Association Chief Health Equity Officer, Sr. Vice President Aletha Maybank, MD, MPH told BK Reader New Yorkers would be in great hands with Bassett, adding she herself came to work in New York because of Bassett’s understanding of the need to connect with communities directly, and to center those voices.

“We were able to do things that were recognized by the World Health Organization and the CDC around the way we really worked to embed equity and justice into our planning and into our process inside of the health department… and then figure out how that impacted outside as well,” Maybank said, adding that Bassett had clarity, was a great communicator and advocate.

“She was never fearful of standing up to power; to say when something was right or just… And she has the knowledge related to science to pair with that,” she said.

“We need a local leader that really understand public health and understands policy, advocacy; she has it all.”

Bassett’s appointment is effective December 1.

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Anna Bradley-Smith

Anna Bradley-Smith is Brooklyn-based reporter with bylines in NBC, VICE, Slate and others. Follow her on Twitter @annabradsmith.

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