NY Gov. Hochul Announces Resignation of State Health Commissioner Who Oversaw Nursing Home Scandal
New York Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt in January demanded the resignation of New York State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker, after a report from New York State Attorney General Letitia James found that the health official's office had significantly underreported COVID-19-related deaths in state-operated nursing homes.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul (D) announced during a Thursday COVID-19 news briefing that Zucker would be stepping down as the state's health commissioner.
"He has been a dedicated public servant for over seven and a half years. He worked hard through the pandemic, and I want to thank him for his service on behalf of the people of the state," Hochul said.
The New York governor highlighted that she had made it "very clear" to officials that she would be looking to "build a new team" in the wake of former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's resignation.
"He understands that, in this time, I’ve wanted to take the first 45 days to assemble a new team going forward,” Hochul said, noting the process is "ongoing."
Zucker has agreed to remain in his position until a replacement is found.
"With a fierce dedication to the public’s health, I have carried it through many a crisis in the last seven years and five months and placed the welfare of our residents at the forefront of all things, professional and personal," Zucker wrote in his resignation letter.
He also expressed that he looks forward to "pursuing new opportunities" that explore the unknowns of medicine.
Zucker, who was appointed to the position in 2015 by then-Governor Cuomo, has drawn pandemic-era criticism over his office's handling of death data, as well as his signing off on a March 2020 mandate that allowed COVID-positive nursing home residents to return to their facilities.
While Zucker shied away from mentioning the COVID-19-related New York nursing home death scandal, state lawmakers did not.
"Howard Zucker's resignation is welcome news to all the local public health officials whose input into COVID-19 he ignored, to all the medical professionals who had to endure a Department of Health agenda driven by politics over public health necessities, and to the thousands of families whose loved ones' deaths were covered up by him, under orders he falsely claimed were based on science," New York Senate Republican Leader Rob Ortt wrote in a Thursday statement
"To be clear, his resignation should've happened in January, when I first called for it," Ortt added.
Ortt previously stated that Zucker had "betrayed the public trust" by incorrectly reporting that some 8,200 had died in nursing homes during the pandemic.
According to a January report released by the New York Office of the Attorney General, the number provided at the time undercounted the actual nursing home death toll by as much as 50%.
The issuance noted that the data does not account for those who contracted COVID-19 at a state-run nursing home facility and later died in a hospital.
New York State Assemblyman Ron Kim, a progressive Democrat, told the New York Post
that Zucker's resignation is merely the "first step."
"I think it’s the first step; but, just like with Andrew Cuomo, a resignation does not equate to accountability and Howard Zucker and all of Cuomo’s enablers must be held accountable," Kim asserted.