Keynote Speaker

Ashwin Vasan, MD, PhD, 44th Commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene
Ashwin Vasan, MD, PhD
44th Health Commissioner of New York City


Dr. Ashwin Vasan is the 44th Health Commissioner of New York City. He is a practicing primary care physician, epidemiologist, and health policy expert with 20 years of experience working to improve physical and mental health and social outcomes in New York City, nationally, and globally.

In his role as Commissioner since early 2022, Dr. Vasan has led the nation’s oldest and strongest health department through an unprecedented time of challenge and transition, reshaping the city’s public health system to address the main drivers of declining life expectancy in the post-COVID emergency era - including overdoses, chronic and diet-related diseases, birth inequities, climate change, and gun violence -- culminating in the launch of HealthyNYC, the city’s plan for healthier, longer lives. He has built a coalition of public, private, nonprofit, philanthropic, and government agencies behind this common vision to increase life expectancy and worked closely with the New York City Council to pass Local Law 93, codifying HealthyNYC into city planning, to be revised and reported on every five years in perpetuity, regardless of the administration.

Throughout this work, he has brought a focus to mental health and access to care, releasing a citywide population mental health plan addressing the crisis plaguing youth, people with severe mental illness (SMI); and people at risk of drug overdose. In support of the plan his team launched NYC TeenSpace, a digital front-door to mental health care available to more than 400,000 New Yorkers aged 13-17; declared social media a public health crisis and led the city’s litigation against TikTok, YouTube, SnapChat, and Meta; doubled funding to scale capacity and enrollment in the city’s psychosocial clubhouse system for people with serious mental illness, and led the implementation and funding of the 988 mental health crisis hotline in NYC.

Additionally, under his leadership the Health Department launched a historic debt relief initiative to purchase and cancel $2 billion in medical debt for half a million working class New Yorkers, and launched the Abortion Access Hub and medication abortion services in response to the Dobbs decision and attack on reproductive rights.

Internally, in support of HealthyNYC and to strengthen readiness for the next pandemic, he has modernized the city’s health data infrastructure and has invested in workforce recruitment, retention and wellbeing by addressing pay equity, mental health care access and benefits, and launching Let's Talk! NYC Health, a program to train managers and leaders to support staff with mental health needs and support conversations about mental health in the workplace.

Dr. Vasan began his career at Partners in Health and the HIV Department of the World Health Organization, where he worked on the “3by5” Initiative to expand access to HIV treatment in the developing world. For more than a decade he lived and worked abroad, supporting HIV and health systems development in places like Rwanda, Lesotho, Uganda, South Africa, and India. After completing his clinical training in New York, he joined the faculty at the Mailman School of Public Health and Vagelos College of Physicians & Surgeons at Columbia University, where he continues to see patients and teach trainees, and where he taught seminars on implementation science and global health.

He first joined the NYC Health Department in 2016 as the founding Executive Director of the Health Access Equity Unit, a first-of-its kind government public health office dedicated to bridging healthcare and social care systems for vulnerable populations including people coming home from incarceration, refugees and asylum seekers in New York City, many facing intersecting health, mental health, and social needs, where he built the Health Justice Network, a partnership between primary care clinics and criminal justice re-entry organizations to serve people reintegrating into communities. Most recently he served as the President and CEO of Fountain House, a US-based mental health nonprofit, growing it from a local service provider to a national leader in programs, policy, and advocacy for mental illness, doubling its budget with new philanthropic funding from MacKenzie Scott, Ford Foundation and others, and building a national network to advocate for more funding for community mental health.

Dr. Vasan received his BA in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles; his ScM in Epidemiology from the Harvard School of Public Health; his MD from the University of Michigan; and his PhD in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in the United Kingdom. He completed his clinical training in internal medicine-primary care at New York Presbyterian Hospital. He serves as the Board Chair and President of the Fund for Public Health of New York City and on the Boards of the Greater New York Hospital Association, New York Academy of Medicine, Public Health Solutions, and NYC Health+Hospitals.

He is published extensively in the peer-reviewed literature including the Lancet, the New England Journal of Medicine, JAMA, JAMA Heath Forum, Health Affairs, Bulletin of the World Health Organization, Journal of General Internal Medicine, Health Policy and Planning, and AIDS, and his work and his media appearances are frequent in the popular press, including the New York Times, BBC World News, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, Al Jazeera, the Guardian, and NBC News.