Dr. Mary Bassett, former NYC health commissioner, named to state top job

FILE - Dr. Mary Bassett, speaks during a news conference, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2015, in New York. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

Former New York City Health Commissioner Mary Bassett will become the top health official in the state as it seeks to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Wednesday.

Bassett will replace outgoing state Health Commissioner Howard Zucker, a key figure in former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pandemic response. Zucker has been criticized over his handling of pandemic, especially in relation to nursing homes. Hochul recently announced his resignation.

"Dr. Mary T. Bassett is a highly regarded public health expert & an exemplary public servant. As @HealthNYGov’s next Commissioner, I look forward to working with Dr. Bassett to stop the spread of COVID, improve health equity, and keep New Yorkers safe and healthy," wrote Gov. Hochul on Twitter.

Bassett's appointment is effective Dec. 1. Zucker had agreed to stay until his replacement came on board.

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Hochul lauded Bassett's 30 years of experience in the public and private sectors and her devotion to health equity and social justice.

Bassett served as a resident in a Harlem hospital and spent 17 years developing AIDS-prevention programs in Zimbabwe.

"Our recovery from this pandemic requires tested leadership and experience to improve health equity and access across the state, and Dr. Bassett is perfectly equipped to lead the New York State Department of Health during this critical moment," Hochul said in a prepared release.

Bassett is currently director of the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University and a professor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

She was Mayor Bill de Blasio's commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene from 2014 through summer 2018 and led the department’s response to Ebola and other disease outbreaks.

"I am humbled and honored to return to my home state of New York to lead the Department of Health at this pivotal time," Bassett said in a prepared statement.

With the Associated Press