Once hailed for being part of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s elite team holding regular press briefings in the fight against the coronavirus, State Health Commissioner Howard Zucker soon came under fire for the numerous COVID-related deaths inside state licensed nursing homes.
After more than a month of speculation about Zucker’s future, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced that he’s resigning.
“I agree with his decision,” Hochul said Thursday. “He has been a dedicated public servant for seven and a half years. He worked hard during the pandemic and I want to thank him for his service on behalf of the people of this state.”
In his resignation letter, Zucker said, “There comes a time when the baton should be passed in this marathon journey that we call public service in New York State.”
After taking office last month, Hochul promised a top-to-bottom review of all Cuomo holdovers on staff to determine who can stay, and who must go. Zucker was one of the more controversial figures in the Cuomo administration.
“I think I made it perfectly clear on my first day in office that I will be looking to build a new team,” Hochul said. “I am going to build that team. It’s just taking some time to build that team. There will be more changes forthcoming. But I do respect anyone who is a public servant.”
Last year, Zucker issued a directive that nursing home residents admitted to hospitals for COVID must be returned to those nursing homes after being treated. Critics seized on the order, claiming it led to thousands of unnecessary deaths, as the disease spread like wildfire through the vulnerable populations inside those facilities.
“I absolutely believe his resignation doesn’t equal accountability,” said Ron Kim, a Democratic assemblyman representing parts of Queens. “This is the first step, to remove him from this position of power, so we can hold him, Andrew Cuomo, and all his enablers accountable as it pertains to the 16,000 deaths of nursing home residents.”
Zucker has agreed to stay on, until a proper replacement can be found. Sources tell us that the department was severely diminished under Cuomo, and it was hard to find qualified people who want to work in the state department of health, since Cuomo often overruled the science in favor of politics.