State Health Commissioner Bassett to step down to rejoin Harvard

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State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett announced Friday that she will be stepping down at the end of the year.

Bassett, who led the state’s response to COVID as well as monkeypox and polio emergencies since joining the Hochul administration last year, said she is returning to her previous position with the Harvard Chan School of Public Health in Massachusetts.

“This was a very difficult decision,” Bassett said in a statement.

“I have tremendous admiration for the work our staff has done during a very difficult year responding to COVID, mpox, polio and the day-to-day challenges of protecting New Yorkers’ health.”

Gov. Hochul appointed Bassett as the state’s health czar late last year as New York was facing a surge in COVID cases spurred by the delta and omicron variants.

Bassett replaced Howard Zucker, a Cuomo era holdover who remained in the post despite calls for his resignation in relation to a series of controversies stemming from the state’s handling of nursing home deaths and data during the pandemic.

During her year on the job, Bassett had to contend with new waves of coronavirus and vaccination efforts coupled with an outbreak of monkeypox, now known as mpox, and the first case of polio recorded in the U.S. in over a decade.

Sen. Gustavo Rivera (D-Bronx), the chair of his chamber’s health committee, praised Bassett’s devotion to “health equity.”

“We have Dr. Bassett to thank for shepherding last year’s significant investments in Medicaid and the most robust public health budget in recent memory,” he said in a statement.

Save New York’s Safety Net, a coalition of community health clinics and advocacy groups, also applauded Bassett, but raised concerns about her “abrupt departure” and the impact on proposed changes to the Medicaid drug plan.

The inevitable upheaval caused by the commissioner’s resignation undoubtedly will make matters far worse,” the group said. “Now is not the time to implement an ill-conceived and outdated plan that will cause chaos in the lives of patients, making it more difficult for them to access life-saving care and exacerbating inequities in the state’s health care system.”

In announcing her resignation, Bassett said she wanted to give her successor a chance to “lead this great department for a full four-year term under the leadership of Gov. Hochul.”

“I am grateful that the Governor gave me the opportunity to serve as commissioner, and I know that the department and public health will be in good hands thanks to her leadership and the incredible talent and dedication of the staff,” she added.

Bassett, who previously served as the commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene from 2014 through 2018, is the second high-profile cabinet member to leave the Hochul administration since the governor won a full four-year term in office last month.

Robert Mujica, the Executive Chamber’s long-serving budget czar, announced late last month he would be stepping down to become the executive director of Puerto Rico’s fiscal control board.

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