New York state Health Commissioner Mary Bassett has launched an effort to address the top ranking functions of the sprawling agency, appointing a chief medical officer and reorienting officials toward addressing health equity and long-term care.

The state Department of Health, long considered a gold-standard public health department in the country, has revamped its hiring processes in order to bring in new talent and simplify public health, insurance and regulatory functions.

It all comes as public health officials in New York continue to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as well as fresh challenges, like an outbreak of monkeypox in the state and even the first polio case to be found in the United States in years. But the effort from Bassett, who was nominated for the role last fall, is meant to tackle even broader issues for New Yorkers.

“Public health touches every facet of our lives,” she said. “Our new organizational focus and leadership team structure will better position the Department to shape our priorities and delivery systems to improve health access and outcomes for all New Yorkers. The scope of this Department extends beyond traditional public health and comprises a regulatory function for health care delivery institutions and health insurance programs that provide coverage to over one-third of New Yorkers. In my tenure as commissioner, I intend to do my utmost to fulfil our mandate. New Yorkers deserve no less.”

The Department of Health is New York’s largest cabinet-level office, overseeing a sprawling bureaucracy and public health functions across the state. State health officials under the Cuomo administration had come under scrutiny during the pandemic.

A former state health official who spoke with investigators in the New York attorney general’s office detailed how the Cuomo administration sought to micromanage the public health crisis, making unreasonable demands of staff and barring them from working with their counterparts in New York City.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, who appointed Bassett last year, has also taken the first steps to review New York’s handling of the pandemic, including controversial nursing home and long-term care facilities policies.

But for Bassett, the organizational effort is about the future and is meant to look ahead to the next three years at the department.

Bassett’s plans for the dpeartment include the creation of an Office of Health Equity and Human Rights in order to provide diversity, equity and inclusion in the department. It will be composed of the existing offices of Minority Health and Health Disparities Prevent and Language Access as well as the AIDS Institute and the Office of Gun Violence Prevention.

Bassett is also forming the Office of Aging and Long Term Care, which will be tasked with development policies and programs meant to help New York residents with disabilities who require long-term care support and services.

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