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NYC Health Commissioner Quits Amid Coronavirus Pandemic



NEW YORK CITY – After months of reported tensions with Mayor de Blasio over the city’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot suddenly resigned her post Tuesday. Shortly afterwards, Mayor de Blasio named her successor.

Barbot submitted her formal resignation to Mayor Bill de Blasio Tuesday morning, according to a letter addressed to her colleagues at the Department of Health.

“Your experience and guidance have been the beacon leading this city through this historic pandemic,” Barbot wrote. “To successfully brace against the inevitable second wave, your talents must be better leveraged alongside that of our sister agencies.”

De Blasio held an impromptu press conference, less than an hour after his daily briefing Tuesday ended, to announce her replacement, Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, a Bellevue Hospital physician and associate professor at the NYU School of Medicine.

De Blasio credited Chokshi, chief population health officer at New York City Health + Hospital, with developing its telemedicine program at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chokshi also served as Louisiana’s health policy adviser before and after Hurricane Katrina and later as a White House fellow during the Obama administration.

“I am so honored to be here today,” Chokshi said. “And honored to get started with the work of safeguarding New Yorkers’ health.”

Barbot faced numerous challenges at the height of the pandemic, among them the scandal that erupted over her dispute with the NYPD over personal protective wear.

The commisioner was forced to issue a public apology after de Blasio called her remarks “inappropriate” and some law enforcement unions called for Barbot’s firing, suggesting she was responsible for dozens of coronavirus police officer deaths.

Barbot stopped appearing at the mayor’s daily briefings after issuing her apology, which suggested tensions had mounted between de Blasio and his health commissioner.

“You’re going to have disagreements along the way,” de Blasio said Tuesday. “It had been clear certainly in recent days that it was time for a change, and really about how we move forward.”

One of the biggest points of contention between the mayor and Dr. Barbot was de Blasio’s decision not to run the city’s Test + Trace program out of the Health Department, but through New York City Health + Hospitals, a departure from past practice. In previous years, the Health Department had taken the lead in all contact tracing measures. The two departments have been working together to get the city’s program up and running.

“What matters to everyday New Yorkers is, ‘Did you get the job done?'” De Blasio said. “My job is that we feel we have the best possible team moving forward.”

City Council Health Chair Mark Levine called Barbot’s resignation a “grave blow” to the city.

“Dr. Barbot has stood up fearlessly and consistantly on behalf of science, no matter how strong the opposition,” Levine said in a statement. “Her loss is a major setback in our fight against this pandemic.”

Read Dr. Barbot’s letter below: 

Dear DOHMH Family,

This morning I submitted my formal resignation to Mayor de Blasio.

As I shared with the Mayor, your world class skills are what make this agency so respected around the globe. Your experience and guidance have been the beacon leading this city through this historic pandemic and that to successfully brace against the inevitable second wave, your talents must be better leveraged alongside that of our sister agencies. I have every confidence that you, the committed individuals of this agency, will continue to dedicate yourselves to protecting the health of all New Yorkers during this unprecedented public health emergency. The moment demands it without distractions.

My commitment to this city and to public health is unwavering. I am proud of the accomplishments we have achieved as an agency over the past several years including using a racial equity lens to center communities at the heart of what we do, leveraging our public health data for policy and action in addressing structural inequities and bridging public health and health care delivery so that all of our communities have an equitable opportunity to be healthy and flourish.

It has been an honor and privilege to serve at the helm of an agency with its long and distinguished history in promoting and protecting New Yorkers’ health through ordinary times and during some of the most challenging moments in our city’s history. I am proud that as a woman of color raised in public housing in this city, I always put public health, racial equity and the well-being of the city I love first. That ethos continues within the agency and I have every confidence that you will continue to serve every day with dignity, integrity and courage for the benefit of all New Yorkers.

I trust that our paths will cross again and I am forever blessed to have been a part of this incredible team.