ALBANY – New York’s new health commissioner told state lawmakers she would have resigned rather than put vulnerable New Yorkers in harm’s way through the implementation of a health directive like the infamous March 25 order that her predecessor, Cuomo administration health chief Dr. Howard Zucker, enacted requiring that COVID patients be returned from hospitals to their nursing homes if able.
Dr. Mary Bassett was grilled Wednesday by state Sen. Jim Tedisco (R-Glenville) about “lessons learned” from the state Health Department’s nursing home policy under former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, particularly her thoughts on the March 25, 2020 order.
“I decided when I took up this post that I wasn’t going to try and unravel what had happened in the nursing homes under the previous commissioner, but simply look forward,” Bassett said during a Senate Finance Committee meeting, as she was questioned ahead of her confirmation by the legislature’s upper chamber as Gov. Kathy Hochul’s DOH commissioner.
“Honesty is the best policy and that transparency about data is always appropriate even when the data don’t show what we wish they would show.”
Tedisco pressed, “If this governor, or any governor comes to you, or would have come to you and said, ‘We have to accept the diversity, we can’t discriminate against people who have a very contagious disease, and we’re going to implement allowing them to come from hospital if they have this to go to nursing homes.’ What would you say to that governor?”
Bassett answered: “I’m a doctor first and foremost. I’ll never give advice that I think will harm people. I will never give that advice and I won’t agree to follow it. I would offer to resign, to be clear.”
The Empire State has suffered over 15,000 coronavirus-related nursing home deaths since March 2020.
It was revealed in early 2021 that the Cuomo administration intentionally withheld the true number of deaths that occurred either in elder care facilities or in a hospital, after a resident was so ill they had to be transferred and later died.
It wasn’t until a lawsuit filed by the Empire Center prompted a judge to compel the DOH to release the true number of fatalities, as well as an investigation by the state Attorney General’s office, revealed the massive undercount.
The Post then exclusively reported Cuomo’s top aides “froze” and refused to give the US Department of Justice information about the nursing home death data because they feared retribution.
The move spurred an investigation by the FBI and Brooklyn US Attorney’s Office into the matter that is still ongoing.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office under ex-DA Cy Vance also launched their own probe, but dropped the matter earlier this month.
“Concern about nursing homes has also guided some of our recent actions: shipping test kits to the nursing homes, shipping higher quality masks to nursing homes so that visitors can have the opportunity for testing and masking appropriately and keeping track of where we are with COVID,” noted Bassett.
“I wasn’t here and I decided that I’m not going to take the time to unravel the previous situation.”
The state Senate approved her nomination 43-20 Thursday, with all Democratic members voting in favor of her appointment and all Republican members voting against the measure.