Physicians' groups, public health organizations and a key lawmaker in the state Senate on Wednesday cheered the appointment of Mary Bassett by Gov. Kathy Hochul to become the next commissioner of the Department of Health.
Bassett's appointment, effective Dec. 1, comes amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the continued uncertainty created by the public health crisis. She is also taking over what has long been considered a gold standard public health agency that over the last year has been under scrutiny for its nursing home and long-term policies, as well as reports of preferntial COVID testing in the early days of the pandemic under outgoing Commissioner Howard Zucker.
The selection of Bassett is another key addition to Hochul's new administration just over a month after the new governor was sworn in.
Senate Health Committee Chairman Gustavo Rivera, a prominent Zucker critic in Albany, said the choice of Bassett is a sign the new Hochul administration wants to return the Department of Health "back to its core mission."
"Dr. Bassett, who will be the first African-American to lead the agency, has had an exemplary career focused on enacting forward-thinking, compassionate, and efficient public health initiatives and programs focused on reducing deeply rooted health disparities," Rivera said. "Her lifelong dedication to addressing the impacts of disparities is exactly the foundation our state must build on, particularly as we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been undeniably vicious in communities of color among the other health crises our state faces."
Bassett, who left Mayor Bill de Blasio's administration to work at Harvard, also won support from local public health officiasl in New York. Hochul in the last several weeks has indicated she wants local officials to have a greater role in pandemic-related efforts, pledging to reverse what she called a top-down approach of the former Cuomo administration.
“As we move into the next budgeting and legislative session, we look forward to working with Dr. Bassett to craft coherent and integrated public health strategies, and to ensure the efforts of local and state public health personnel are appropriately resourced," said Dr. Indu Gupta, the president of the New York State Association of County Health Officials.
And Dr. Joseph Sellers, the president of the Medical Society of the State of New York, also praised the selection, calling Bassett the right choice.
"We are confident that Dr. Bassett is the right person at the right time to see New York State through to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic," Sellers said, "and that her wealth of knowledge and experience in the field of public health will guide New Yorkers through future public health challenges."