NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There’s a new top doctor in New York City.
Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday announced the appointment of Dr. Dave A. Chokshi as Commissioner of the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, replacing Dr. Oxiris Barbot, who resigned earlier in the day.
Barbot had served as the commissioner since December of 2018.
In a blistering email to the mayor, the woman spearheading the city’s response to the deadly coronavirus pandemic suddenly called it quits, ostensibly because the mayor stripped her of responsibility for running the city’s contact tracing program, CBS2’s Marcia Kramer reported.
“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’ve been,” Barbot said in an email that was shared with the New York Times.
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But while the move was sudden it was not exactly a surprise. There had been simmering tensions between the mayor and Barbot almost from the beginning of the outbreak of the virus in mid-March. There was the issue of the mayor’s very public dithering which delayed the closing of schools and businesses. Some in the department thought he should have moved faster, Kramer reported.
And there was also the dispute between Barbot and NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan over providing personal protective equipment to cops which were then in short supply.
“It was not obviously about one thing,” de Blasio said, referring to Barbot’s departure. “It has been clear, certainly in recent days, that it was time for a change.”
City Council Health Committee Chairman Mark Levine called the development “deeply disturbing.”
“It’s really a blow to our fight against the pandemic,” Levine said. “I am gravely concerned that her departure will weaken us in our fight and will weaken our ability to make decisions based on science, not politics.”
Barbot sent a message to her staff via email, stating in part, “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.”
Chokshi has served at the highest level of local, state, and federal health agencies, including NYC Health + Hospitals, where he was in senior leadership roles over the past six years, the city said in a release. Most recently, he served as one of the leaders of the city’s COVID-19 response team.
“Dr. Chokshi has spent his career fighting for those too often left behind,” de Blasio said. “Never has that been more true than during the COVID-19 pandemic, where he has helped lead our city’s public health system under unprecedented challenges. I know he’s ready to lead the charge forward in our fight for a fairer and healthier city for all.”
Chokshi assumes the position with experience in public health, clinical medicine, and health policy. Previously, he served at the Louisiana Department of Health before and after Hurricane Katrina, with a focus on reshaping the state’s healthcare system in the wake of the storm.
“I couldn’t be prouder of our city’s response in the face of a once-in-a-lifetime public health crisis,” Chokshi said. “I’m honored to serve the people of New York City with the extraordinary team at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Together, we will emerge from this pandemic as a stronger, fairer, and healthier city.
“I am a primary care doctor with a public health heart,” he added.
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In 2016, President Barack Obama appointed Chokshi to the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion, and Integrative and Public Health.
Chokshi was a member of the FEMA delegation to New York City after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. As Special Advisor to New York City Health Commissioner Tom Farley, Chokshi contributed to the city’s response to opioid addiction, obesity, and disease prevention in 2011.
The city said Chokshi will continue his clinical practice at Bellevue Hospital, where he has taken care of patients as a primary care physician since 2014. He trained at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and Brigham & Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School.
Chokshi lives in Jackson Heights, Queens — just a few blocks from Elmhurst Hospital — with his wife, an educator in New York City public schools, and 14-month-old daughter.