Dr. Richard F. Daines, the former state health commissioner who presided over hospital downsizing, the fight against swine flu and an unsuccessful attempt to enact a soda tax, died Saturday at his family farm in Dutchess County.
The death was confirmed by Claudia Hutton, his former press secretary, who said that Dr. Daines, 60, was found by the state police in a barn on his property, where he had been taking down Christmas decorations. It appears that Dr. Daines, who had been in good health, had a heart attack, but the cause of death has not been confirmed, Ms. Hutton said.
Dr. Daines was appointed health commissioner by Gov. Eliot Spitzer and served from 2007 to 2010, stepping down when Andrew M. Cuomo became governor. He had recently accepted an appointment as a visiting scholar at the New York Academy of Medicine.
He graduated from Cornell Medical School in 1978 and worked for many years at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx. He went to St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan in 2000 as medical director, and became president and chief executive in 2002.
He is survived by his wife, Linda; his children, William, Katherine and Andrew; one grandson; his parents, Newell and Jean; and siblings.
During his tenure, he oversaw the carrying out of the recommendations of the Commission on Health Care Facilities in the 21st Century, commonly known as the Berger Commission, which ordered the consolidation and closing of hospitals and nursing homes.
He was instrumental in developing public health policy to deal with the 2009 outbreak of swine flu in New York, part of what was pronounced a worldwide pandemic.
He lobbied aggressively for the passage of a state tax on sugary sodas and other drinks, which was opposed by the soda industry and never won traction with state legislators. Last October, he teamed with New York City’s health commissioner, Dr. Thomas A. Farley, to ask the United States Department of Agriculture to bar New York City’s 1.7 million recipients of food stamps from using them to buy soda or other sugared drinks. That request is pending.
”We underprice this commodity that we overconsume — and I mean we, we all do it — we suffer the consequences, and then we try to buy our way back out of it, liposuction or something, bariatric surgery, some kind of pill for obesity,” Dr. Daines said, explaining his advocacy of a soda tax in an interview with The New York Times last year.
Down to his appearance, Dr. Daines fit the part of the sin-tax crusader. Standing 6-foot-1, he was lanky and folksy, a Spanish-speaking former Mormon missionary in Bolivia before he practiced medicine in the South Bronx.