Dr. Dara Kass, has experienced some big life changes in the past year. Formerly an emergency room physician at Columbia University, last month President Biden announced her appointment as the Regional Director of Region 2 of the US Department of Health and Human Services including New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. What more? This summer she moved her family of three children, ages 14, 12 and 9 to Scarsdale.
Here Dr. Kass shares her thoughts on the pandemic, affordable health care and adjusting to life in the suburbs. Find out more about your new neighbor here:
What are the biggest challenges facing the department now?
Combatting COVID-19, making health insurance coverage more accessible and affordable, and improving health equity are three major priorities of the Administration. As a physician, it is hard to overstate the impact that COVID-19 has had on Americans- claiming 750,000 lives, and creating hardships for many more. Combating the pandemic is closely linked with health equity, as we know that communities of color are suffering the greatest impact from the virus. Fortunately, as numbers are starting to show – the Administration is making huge strides when it comes to reducing disparities in health access. As of this fall, 73% of Latinos and 70% of Black Americans have now gotten at least their first shot, compared to 71% of white Americans. But we still have more work to do, to ensure vaccination numbers continue to rise.
The pandemic has also made it abundantly clear that Americans want and need access to affordable, quality health insurance coverage. We know this because 2.8 million people took advantage of lower health insurance premiums during this year’s Marketplace Special Enrollment Period and received coverage. It is more in reach than ever – currently 4 in 5 Americans can access quality coverage for less than $10 a month. Thanks to the American Rescue Plan we are better positioned to protect our most vulnerable populations.
What are some of your personal goals in your new role?
I am proud of the work that the Administration has done to improve Americans’ health and wellbeing. Working firsthand in the Emergency Room magnifies both the tremendous successes we’ve realized and the need for greater access to care for all of us. In my new role, I will work to amplify the messages of the Administration so that more Americans in New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands can gain access to the healthier outcomes they deserve.
What do you anticipate will be the major differences for you between working at medical institutions and serving in your new role in the government?
First and foremost, the schedule should be a bit kinder to my aging body! Emergency departments are open 24/7 and I have worked overnights and weekends since I became a doctor. I am looking forward to a more “normal” schedule where I sleep when other people sleep.
I am also looking forward to having a different impact on the delivery of healthcare. The work I did at Columbia University Medical Center was incredible, and I was a well-known figure nationally in my field, but nothing compares to the ability to support good government and the work it does. This administration has already passed landmark legislation to help guide us out of this pandemic and with the Build Back Better Act, they are on target to affect even more lives. The opportunity to support the implementation of those resources locally is an honor and a privilege.
And about Scarsdale…
How long have you lived here and what drew you to Scarsdale?
We just moved to Scarsdale over the summer. We had never really thought about living in the suburbs, but over the past year we realized we wanted to get our kids into one school system as opposed to the hodgepodge of public and private schools we were at in the city. Once you try to find a community with exceptional schools, reasonable commute to the city and beautiful neighborhoods, the decision becomes rather clear. So here we are!
How old are your children and how have they adjusted?
We have three children. Our daughter Hannah is 14 and a freshman at Scarsdale High School. Charlie is 12. He is a 6th grader at Scarsdale Middle School and Sammy is 9 and in the 4th grade at Fox Meadow. So we are still in different schools, but at least it’s the same school system! They have adjusted well. I think coming here just as everyone was emerging from their pandemic education was a good time for a move, socially and academically.
What do you like about living here?
I really love the sense of belonging in Scarsdale. We came from a tight knit community in Park Slope. We were active in our schools and at our temple. I was a bit worried that we weren’t going to be able to recreate that easily here, but thankfully that is not the case. We have already made great friends and reconnected with others that we knew from college or graduate school. Personally, I love how many physician women live in this town, we must have more per capita than almost any other town in Westchester. Lastly, we joined Shaarei Tikvah, the temple right around the corner from our house and that has been wonderful, not just for religious education for our children, but for an anchor for our whole family.
What (if any) are your favorite places to go?
So as new suburbanites, my daughter and I have been going to the Westchester quite a bit. It may not seem like a big deal to other people but malls and parking are totally novel to us and we love to pop over and walk around.
We love Akai in town and are very grateful to have excellent sushi so close to our house. My boys learned to ride bikes just so they could ride the Bronx River Parkway on Sundays, another totally new experience for us. Overall, our move to Scarsdale has exceeded all of our expectations and we look forward to living here for many years to come.