The New York state Senate on Thursday confirmed Dr. Mary Bassett as the commissioner of the Department of Health, a role she has held in an acting capacity since the end of last year.
Bassett's confirmation in the Democratic-led Senate was on a party-line vote, 43-20.
“I am honored to be officially appointed to serve as the 17th New York State Health Commissioner, and I thank Governor Kathy Hochul for entrusting me and the State Senate for this vote of confidence," she said in a statement. "As I have said from the beginning, I will continue to be open and transparent and make decisions based on science, data and improving the health of all New Yorkers. I will continue to work with our experts at the Department of Health and our partners at all levels of government on the COVID-19 response and other critical public health issues.”
Bassett replaces Dr. Howard Zucker, a holdover from Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration. Zucker had been criticized for his perceived lack of independence from the governor's office during his tenure.
Bassett has taken the helm of the Department of Health as the pandemic has entered yet another phase. The highly contagious omicron variant of COVID-19 has led to a record surge in cases this winter over the last several weeks, though has declined this month. Still, hospitalizations have increased, leading to a staffed bed shortage across New York.
Dozens of hospitals in parts of upstate New York have had to limit elective surgeries and procedures as a result. Republicans in the state Senate raised concerns with the Hochul administration's approach to the pandemic.
"While I appreciate and respect Dr. Bassett’s credentials, I cannot in good conscience support a nominee who will not commit to examining the failures of the pandemic response under the disgraced Cuomo administration," said Senate Minority Leader Robert Ortt. "Even though we are in year three of a global pandemic, I firmly believe that DOH is still run with political science – not medical science – dictating our state’s failing COVID policies."