Ex-NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett tapped to lead state Department of Health

Coronavirus Update for New York
NEW YORK (WABC) -- Former New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary Bassett has been tapped to replace Dr. Howard Zucker and lead the state Department of Health.

Governor Kathy Hochul announced the appointment Wednesday, effective December 1.

"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. "When I was sworn in as governor, I pledged to build a talented team with the skills, knowledge, and expertise to stop the spread of COVID-19, return our lives to normalcy, and move our state forward. Dr. Bassett is both a highly regarded public health expert and an exemplary public servant, and I look forward to working with her to keep New Yorkers safe and healthy."

Dr. Bassett currently serves as director of the Franois-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University and professor of the Practice of Health and Human Rights in the department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

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From 2014 through summer 2018, she served as commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, where she made racial justice a priority and worked to address the structural racism at the root of the city's persistent gaps in health between white New Yorkers and communities of color.

Dr. Bassett also led the department's response to Ebola, Legionnaires' disease, 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," Dr. Bassett said. "The pandemic underscored the importance of public health, while also revealing inequities driven by structural racism. As we move to end the pandemic, we have a unique opportunity to create a state that is more equitable for all New Yorkers. I look forward to working toward this with Governor Hochul and the team at the Department of Health."

In 2002, Dr. Bassett was appointed deputy commissioner of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. In this role, she led the division responsible for New York City's pioneering tobacco control interventions and food policy, including the nation's first calorie posting requirements and trans fat restrictions.

Her signature program was the launch of District Public Health Offices in several neighborhoods long harmed by racial/ethnic and economic health inequities. These offices now lead targeted, multi-sectoral, multi-agency strategies to reduce excess burden of disease.

From 2009 to 2014, Dr. Bassett served as program director for the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation's African Health Initiative and Child Well-Being Prevention Program.

Early in her career, she served on the medical faculty at the University of Zimbabwe for 17 years, during which time she developed a range of AIDS prevention interventions. Building on this experience, she went on to serve as associate director of health equity at the Rockefeller Foundation's Southern Africa Office, overseeing its Africa AIDS portfolio. After returning to the United States, she served on the faculty of Columbia University, including as associate professor of clinical epidemiology in its Mailman School of Public Health.

Dr. Bassett grew up in New York City. She received a B.A. in History and Science from Harvard University, an M.D. from Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons (serving her residency at Harlem Hospital), and an M.P.H. from the University of Washington.

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