State Watch

NY health chief criticized over state’s COVID-19 response resigns


New York’s top health official, who was criticized over the state’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, has resigned, Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) announced Thursday.

In a news conference, Hochul said that New York Health Commissioner Howard Zucker has submitted his resignation, and that she agrees with Zucker’s decision. Zucker agreed to stay in the role until the position is filled.

Hochul said that Zucker understood that she wanted to assemble a new team

Zucker “has been a dedicated public servant for over 7 1/2 years,” Hochul said.  “He worked hard through the pandemic. And I want to thank him for his service on behalf of the people of this state.”

In his resignation letter, which was shared with The Hill by the New York Department of Health, Zucker said it has “been a true privilege to serve the people of this state.” 

“I thank very much the people of New York State for letting me serve them in this capacity for many years, and undoubtedly during the greatest public health crisis in over a century,” Zucker wrote. “I look forward to pursing new opportunities that explore hurdles and unknowns in medicine, policy and public health and voyage into my own imagination to work on overcoming them.” 

Zucker was appointed as health commissioner by then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in 2015, according to The Associated Press.   

Zucker came under fire this year for the administration’s handling of COVID-19 in nursing homes after a report from New York Attorney General Letitia James’s (D) office revealed that the state may have underreported COVID-19 deaths.

The New York Times reported in late April that under Zucker’s watch, his agency put a policy in place early in the pandemic that prevented nursing homes from refusing to take care of elderly patients who were discharged from hospitals after COVID-19 treatment. Critics argue that the policy may have contributed to the death toll in the spring last year. 

Hochul didn’t directly answer a question on whether anyone in her administration pressured Zucker into resigning. However, she said that she was following through on her commitment to build a new team.

 “He understands that I, in this time, I wanted to take the first 45 days to assemble a new team going forward,” Hochul said. “That process is ongoing, and he understands and he respects that. And he also has an opportunity to move on to new ventures.”

Tags Andrew Cuomo Kathy Hochul New York COVID-19 nursing home scandal

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