October 27, 2020

New York City’s top health official Oxiris Barbot resigns

Dr. Oxiris Barbot attends Mayor bill de Blasio briefing on first registered community transfer covid-19 patient in New York at City Hall.

Lev Radin | Pacific Press | Getty Images

New York City’s top health official Dr. Oxiris Barbot, who led the city’s response to its coronavirus outbreak, resigned on Tuesday after months of discord with the mayor’s office and the city’s police department. 

“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,” Barbot wrote in a statement to the city’s Department of Health employees. 

Some of the city’s police unions called on Barbot to resign earlier in the city’s response to the pandemic, accusing the city’s health commissioner of rejecting a request from the New York Police Department for more personal protective equipment. Barbot later acknowledged she had an argument with the NYPD about PPE and apologized for the incident, according to NBC New York. 

In her resignation letter, first reported by the New York Times, Barbot said she left her post with “deep disappointment” with how Mayor Bill de Blasio handled the outbreak and the city’s response afterward. She wrote that New York City “would be well served” by having the city’s health department at the “strategic center of the response not in the background.” 

Tensions between Barbot and de Blasio were reported in May when the mayor gave the city’s contact tracing program, a key tool used to track down and isolate positive cases and contain the virus’ spread, to the city’s public hospital system rather than the experts at the Department of Health. 

“Commissioner made the decision and I received her letter a little over an hour ago,” de Blasio said at a press briefing later on Tuesday. “It had been clear certainly in recent days that it’s time for a change and really about how we move forward.” 

De Blasio defended his decisions to task NYC Health and Hospitals with the contact tracing job over the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. 

“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Health and Hospitals, which is a huge operational organization, made sense as the home for something this big and unprecedented,” de Blasio said at the press briefing.

Barbot will be replaced by Dr. Dave Chokshi as commissioner of the city’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, de Blasio announced at the briefing. Chokshi “has served at the highest level of local, state and federal health agencies, including NYC Health and Hospitals, where he was in senior leadership roles over the past six years,” according to a statement from the city. 

He also served as a White House fellow in the Obama Administration and was the principal health advisor to the secretary of veterans affairs, according to the statement.

“I’d say to everyday New Yorkers, you’re in good hands here. You’ve got a new health commissioner with unbelievable experience and ability, a perfect person for the job,” de Blasio said at the press briefing. 

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