BROOKLYN – NYC Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot, who clashed with the mayor amid the pandemic, suddenly announced her resignation this morning.
In her resignation letter, she wrote, “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,” the NY Times reported. “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.”
“This is grave news,” Chair of New York City Council Health Committee Mark Levine tweeted. “A dark day for public health in New York City.”
In NYC alone, under Mayor Bill de Blasio’s leadership, 18,933 New Yorkers have died from the coronavirus, city data shows. Next month, schools are getting ready to partially reopen, with fears of the coronavirus spreading again.
Dr. Barbot and de Blasio have clashed a few times throughout the past few months. Back in May, Dr. Barbot issued a public apology after an internal argument between her and the NYPD regarding face masks. When officers showed up at a FEMA facility where medical supplies were being stored, they were told they would only get a fraction of what was requested, NY1 reported.
Then, de Blasio announced that the city’s Test + Trace program would not be run out of the Health Department (as it usually is), but through New York City Health + Hospitals. The Health Department has performed tracing for decades, while the public hospitals have not.
At a press conference this morning, de Blasio said, “Anytime there’s change, there’s an opportunity to rejuvenate, there’s an opportunity to rethink and go forward with better approaches.”
“I want to thank [Dr. Barbot] for her service to the city. I want to thank her for the important work she did during this crisis,” he said. “It had been clear, certainly in recent days, that it was time for a change.”
Dr. Barbot wrote to her Department of Health colleagues, “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,” she continued. “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.”
The new NYC health commissioner is now Dr. Dave A. Chokshi, formerly the chief population health officer at New York City Health + Hospital. Chokshi has also previously served as Louisiana’s health policy adviser before and after Hurricane Katrina.
“When it was most urgent, NYC forfeited the leadership of its first-in-class public health Dep’t [because Bill de Blasio] could not respect [Dr. Barbot],” Council Member Brad Lander tweeted after the announcement. “Sexism & racism harm women & people-of-color most directly. But they also harm us all.”