NYC health commissioner resigns over de Blasio’s response to pandemic

Dr. Oxiris Barbot steps down from her role as NYC health commissioner after ongoing disagreements with Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Housing Works World AIDS Day In NYC
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - DECEMBER 02: New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot speaks on stage during Housing Works World AIDS Day at The New York Academy of Medicine on December 02, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Gary Gershoff/Getty Images for Housing Works)

After months of public and private disagreements with Mayor Bill de Blasio, Dr. Oxiris Barbot resigns as NYC health commissioner amid the coronavirus pandemic.

READ MORE: Mayor Bill de Blasio to slash NYPD budget by $1 billion

The New York Times reports she faced  “deep disappointment” with the mayor’s leadership as COVID-19 creates unfortunate situations.

Oxiris Barbot NYC
Dr. Oxiris Barbot (Credit: Dr. Barbot)

“I leave my post today with deep disappointment that during the most critical public health crisis in our lifetime, that the health department’s incomparable disease control expertise was not used to the degree it could have been,” she writes in her resignation email obtained by The New York Times.

She continues, “our experts are world renowned for their epidemiology, surveillance and response work. The city would be well served by having them at the strategic center of the response not in the background.”

As the pandemic began and New York City emerged as an early hot spot, de Blasio faced criticism. The NYT reports he and the department disagreed on testing, public messaging, and how quickly to close schools.

Dr. Barbot also disagreed with de Blasio’s decision to put the contact-tracing program inside of hospitals instead of the health department which has done so for decades.

Bill de Blasio
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio speaks at a press conference to announce the city will not appeal a judge’s ruling that the police tactic “Stop-and-Frisk” is unconstitutional, which the judge had ruled over last summer, on January 30, 2014. (Photo by Andrew Burton/Getty Images)

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According to the NYT, the tension between de Blasio and Barbot became a public matter when a news article in The New York Post highlighted a disagreement between her and a police commander. The commander desired personal protective gear, designated for health care workers to be given to the police force.

To that, she reportedly responded, “I don’t give two rats’ as*es about your cops.”

Following the confrontation, she began to make fewer public appearances regarding COVID-19. The mayor received advice from a senior adviser, Dr. Jay Varma, and Dr. Mitchell Katz, the public hospital chief reports the NYT.

Dr. Dave A. Chokshi has been named Barbot’s replacement by de Blasio. Chokshi is a former senior leader at Health + Hospitals, New York City’s public hospital system. He has also worked for the health department in Louisiana and as an adviser to the United States secretary of Veterans Affairs.

“It had been clear in recent days that it was time for a change,” Mr. de Blasio says according to the NYT.

He continues, “We need an atmosphere of unity. We need an atmosphere of common purpose.”

Still, other industry professionals believe the situation could have had a better ending.

“It’s a bad day for the city. She’s a very qualified commissioner of health,” said Lilliam Barrios-Paoli, a former deputy mayor of health, to the NYT. She worked under de Blasio and with Dr. Barbot.

She continues, “there’s another woman of color that goes down. I think it’s a really regrettable thing.”

In a statement shared on Twitter, Barbot leaves her staff with a positive message.

“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,” she tweets.

The verified New York Health Commissioner account has already been taken over by the newly appointed Chokshi who shares an eagerness to get to work.

Barbot shared her goodbye message from her personal account, uploading a photo of her last-day work boots and using the hashtag #GoodTrouble in reverence to the late Rep. John Lewis.

According to the CDC, New York City has 223,186 confirmed cases of coronavirus thus far.

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