New York’s Controversial Health Commissioner Resigns

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ALBANY, NY (WSKG) New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced that embattled state health commissioner Howard Zucker is out. Zucker, who became embroiled in a controversy over the true number of nursing homes deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic under former Governor Andrew Cuomo, submitted his resignation on Thursday.

FILE – Dr. Howard A. Zucker, commissioner of the New York State Department of Health, speaks during a news conference on coronavirus vaccination at Suffolk County Community College on Monday, April 12, 2021 in Brentwood, N.Y. (Michael M. Santiago/Pool via AP)

Meanwhile, Hochul is also bracing for a Monday vaccination deadline for the state’s health care workers amid worries over intensifying staffing shortages at hospital and nursing homes.

Commissioner Zucker oversaw health department policy in the spring of 2020, when a controversial directive issued on March 23rd required nursing homes to take back residents who had been hospitalized with COVID-19 and were still infected with the virus. The rule was later rescinded. But critics say it led to unnecessary deaths at the homes.

Zucker insisted that it was infected nursing home visitors and staff who were responsible for the deaths. In January, the state’s Attorney General Tish James, found that the Zucker and top aides to former Governor Andrew Cuomo undercounted the number of nursing home deaths by 50%. Zucker later confirmed the AG’s numbers were correct.

He, along with other former aides in the Cuomo administration , are the subject of a federal investigation into whether they engaged in a cover up of the true number of nursing home deaths. Cuomo resigned in August over a sexual harassment scandal.

Governor Hochul says Zucker will stay on for a few weeks until a successor is found, and she thanked him for what she said was his hard work during the pandemic. But she says she’s intended since she took office nearly a month ago that she would “clean house” and replace numerous controversial Cuomo administration officials.

“I think I made very clear on my first day in office that I’ll be looking to build a new team,” Hochul said. “There will be other changes forthcoming.”

Hochul is also dealing with the looming Monday deadline that requires all health care workers in New York to be vaccinated. A provision that prevents health care workers from claiming religious exemptions has been temporarily put on hold while a lawsuit proceeds. Legal arguments are scheduled for next week.

There are concerns that some of the 16% of health care works who are not yet vaccinated may quit or be prevented from working, intensifying already existing staffing shortages.

The governor says that can be avoided if the remaining workers get their shots in the next few days.

“It does not have to happen,” Hochul said. “What is looming for Monday is completely avoidable. And there’s no excuses.”

Hochul says she’s also taking steps to import health care workers from the Philippines and other countries, if necessary, and is working with the federal State Department to speed up Visa processes. She’s also looking into altering state licensing requirements and is negotiating with top health care workers unions to enact pay incentives to encourage existing staff to work more overtime hours. And New York Governor Kathy Hochul announced that embattled state health commissioner Howard Zucker is out. Zucker, who became embroiled in a controversy over the true number of nursing homes deaths during the COVID-19 pandemic under former Governor Andrew Cuomo, submitted his resignation on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Hochul is also bracing for a Monday vaccination deadline for the state’s health care workers amid worries over intensifying staffing shortages at hospital and nursing homes.

Commissioner Zucker oversaw health department policy in the spring of 2020, when a controversial directive issued on March 23rd required nursing homes to take back residents who had been hospitalized with COVID-19 and were still infected with the virus. The rule was later rescinded. But critics say it led to unnecessary deaths at the homes.

Zucker insisted that it was infected nursing home visitors and staff who were responsible for the deaths. In January, the state’s Attorney General Tish James, found that the Zucker and top aides to former Governor Andrew Cuomo undercounted the number of nursing home deaths by 50%. Zucker later confirmed the AG’s numbers were correct. He, along with other former aides in the Cuomo administration , are the subject of a federal investigation into whether they engaged in a cover up of the true number of nursing home deaths. Cuomo resigned in August over a sexual harassment scandal.

Governor Hochul says Zucker will stay on for a few weeks until a successor is found, and she thanked him for what she said was his hard work during the pandemic. But she says she’s intended since she took office nearly a month ago that she would “clean house” and replace numerous controversial Cuomo administration officials.

“I think I made very clear on my first day in office that I’ll be looking to build a new team,” Hochul said. “There will be other changes forthcoming.”

Hochul is also dealing with the looming Monday deadline that requires all health care workers in New York to be vaccinated. A provision that prevents health care workers from claiming religious exemptions has been temporarily put on hold while a lawsuit proceeds. Legal arguments are scheduled for next week.

There are concerns that some of the 16% of health care works who are not yet vaccinated may quit or be prevented from working, intensifying already existing staffing shortages.

The governor says that can be avoided if the remaining workers get their shots in the next few days.

“It does not have to happen,” Hochul said. “What is looming for Monday is completely avoidable. And there’s no excuses.”

Hochul says she’s also taking steps to import health care workers from the Philippines and other countries, if necessary, and is working with the federal State Department to speed up Visa processes. She’s also looking into altering state licensing requirements and is negotiating with top health care workers unions to enact pay incentives to encourage existing staff to work more overtime hours. And she says she’ll have more announcements in the next couple of days.

Meanwhile, the governor called on the help of the state’s 3 National Football League Teams, The Buffalo Bills, and New York Jets and Giants, to help get more members of the public vaccinated, as the rates of immunization continue to stagnate. Just over 61% of all New Yorkers are fully vaccinated.

A contest for those newly vaccinated will include prizes like free game tickets, special Facetime events with star payers, signed team gear and stadium tours. says she’ll have more announcements in the next couple of days.

Meanwhile, the governor called on the help of the state’s 3 National Football League Teams, The Buffalo Bills, and New York Jets and Giants, to help get more members of the public vaccinated, as the rates of immunization continue to stagnate. Just over 61% of all New Yorkers are fully vaccinated.

A contest for those newly vaccinated will include prizes like free game tickets, special Facetime events with star payers, signed team gear and stadium tours.