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New Health Commissioner Wants to Expand Department's Presence in Communities

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Dr. Mary Bassett has been on the job as the city's new health commissioner for a month, and she sat down with NY1 health reporter Erin Billups to discuss her vision and a new campaign already underway.

When it comes to the health of New Yorkers, like her boss, the newly appointed health commissioner, Dr. Mary Travis Bassett, says it is a tale of two cities.

Billups:What do you feel is the greatest public health need in New York City?
Bassett: A guiding framework is attention to disparities in our health patterns across communities. New York City, as you know, is a very unequal city, and that's reflected in our health patterns.
 
Bassett served as a deputy health commissioner for part of the Bloomberg administration, helping to usher in the Smoke Free Air Act and a ban on trans fat use in restaurants.

Under Bassett's leadership, Mayor Bill de Blasio was clear: his administration's Department of Health would be markedly different, a step away from the so-called "nanny state".
 
Billups: How do you plan to balance doing decisive things that people would benefit from with getting that community consent and input?
Bassett: It's good for departments to be innovative, but I think it's also really important for communities to have the opportunity to understand. That doesn't mean we're always going to agree, but communities, at the least, should have the opportunity to express their concerns, and I think we can do better at that.

One way she plans to do that is by expanding the department's presence in communities.
 
"When I was here last as a deputy commissioner, established something called "district public health offices" to take a neighborhood-based approach to tackling a whole range of issues which burden these communities, and I plan to bolster that, build on it," Bassett said.

Her first initiative is a multimedia campaign launched this week, urging more uninsured New Yorkers to get coverage through Obamacare. An unprecedented half of the ads are in Spanish.
 
"This looks like New Yorkers. This looks like my daughter," she said. "We know that people who are Spanish-speaking are twice as likely to be uninsured."

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