New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett unexpectedly announced on Friday that she was quitting her job after conducting the state’s COVID-19 and monkeypox response under Gov. Kathy Hochul for just over a year.
“I’m leaving now so the next commissioner has a chance to lead this great department for a full four-year term under the direction of Governor Hochul,” Bassett said Friday of her decision to disappear by the end of the month.
The timing of her departure contrasts with the six-year tenure of her predecessor, Dr. Howard Zucker, and Bassett’s own four years as New York City health director under Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Bassett said she will be returning to Harvard University, where she previously directed the François-Xavier Bagnoud (FXB) Center for Health and Human Rights, before taking an official leave of absence to perform in New York.
Her resignation will become official on January 1st.
Bassett previously made a name for himself in public health through AIDS work, which spanned 17 years on the faculty of the University of Zimbabwe.
“Throughout her time in my administration—from the inception of the Omicron variant through MPox and polio outbreaks—she has worked tirelessly to keep New Yorkers informed, staying healthy and safe. I am proud that she has brought her world-renowned expertise in justice and public health to the State Department of Health,” Hochul said in a statement.
While Bassett is a world-renowned public health expert, her tenure has not been without controversy.
Bassett has been criticized for defying efforts to investigate controversial care home guidelines during the pandemic under the disgraced ex-government. Andrew Cuomo, who resigned in August 2021 amid a litany of scandals including an alleged cover-up of COVID-19 deaths.
“The agency still has PTSD from the Cuomo years,” a former state health department official told The Post on Friday.
Cuomo critics say Bassett never lived up to hopes of having a full account of what happened at nursing homes under his administration.
“The fact that Dr. Bassett saw no need to look back at the DOH’s response during COVID, including the deadly decision to flood New York nursing homes with over 9,000 Covid patients, says all you need to know about their priorities,” said Janice Dean, a The Meteorologist of Fox News, who lost her in-laws to COVID-19 in a nursing home and has been an outspoken critic of Cuomo’s handling of the crisis.
Bill Hammond, a senior fellow in health policy at the Empire Center for Public Policy, noted that Hochul has not assigned her own health commissioner to oversee a controversial review of state pandemic policies, including nursing homes, that is ongoing.
“She took over during a tipping point for the Department of Health — a global pandemic that hit New York particularly early and particularly hard, shaking confidence in its public health system,” Hammond said.
“DR. Bassett resisted the idea of winding up past events – which would be crucial to learning the right lessons – and made no apparent effort to better prepare the state for future viruses,” he added.
But some issues Bassett faced were also Hochul’s fault, including implementing controversial vaccine mandates as the healthcare industry struggled with staffing issues.
The DOH was also embroiled in an alleged pay-to-play scheme, under Bassett’s watch, in which rapid COVID-19 tests were purchased from a company linked to $300,000 in donations to Hochul’s reelection campaign.
While Bassett helped improve the health department after a decade under Cuomo, the former officer said she struggled at times.
“Bassett only got half the job done. She was great at public health but didn’t know much about hospital and nursing home regulation,” the source said.
Hochul has denied wrongdoing and Bassett was never personally tied to the decision-making that led to the controversial purchases at prices much higher than what California paid for the same tests, the Times Union revealed last summer.
Dean said she is pessimistic about who Hochul will choose to replace Bassett.
“Perhaps the next health commissioner will be more interested in finding out what went wrong in the spring of 2020 and claimed the lives of so many older New Yorkers, but under Kathy Hochul’s leadership, we will not hold our breath,” she said.
While it remains unclear exactly what prompted Bassett’s final decision to leave New York again for Massachusetts, Bassett suggested Friday that it would take time for her to make up her mind.
“It was a very difficult decision,” she said.
https://nypost.com/2022/12/02/dr-mary-bassett-leaving-nys-department-of-health-after-kathy-hochul-election-win/ NY Health Commish Mary Bassett suddenly resigns under Kathy Hochul