Jackson Heights-based doctor to replace Oxiris Barbot as new Department of Health commissioner

Screenshot from Mayor Bill de Blasio's press conference

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the appointment of Dr. Dave A. Chokshi as the new commissioner of the city’s Department of Health during a press conference on Tuesday, Aug. 4.

The news comes a few moments after NY1 first reported that Dr. Oxiris Barbot resigned from the position.

De Blasio introduced Dr. Chokshi, describing him as a leader and a visionary with “great healthcare credentials who knows our city and our people.”

“Child of immigrants, grew up with tremendous potential and worked so hard to achieve that potential: This is someone who knows how to take on any challenge,” de Blasio said.

Chokshi has served at the highest levels of local, state, and federal health agencies. He held a senior leadership role in NYC Health + Hospitals for the past six years. As Chief Population Health Officer, Chokshi and his team transformed healthcare delivery for over 1 million New Yorkers.

He has also served as a key leader in the city’s COVID-19 response, according to the mayor’s office.

“I’m so honored to be here before you today and ready to get started with the important work of safeguarding the health of New Yorkers,” Chokshi said. “I’m a primary care doctor with a public health heart. As the first doctor in my family, I didn’t have direct role models showing me what it meant to practice medicine, but I had plenty of experience from getting hospitalized with asthma attacks as a child, to my father’s decades-long challenges with diabetes that showed me how health was linked to opportunity.”

Chokshi’s parent emigrated from Mumbai, India. He was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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. He was a Rhodes Scholar, earning an MSc in global public health from the University of Oxford.

He trained at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and Brigham & Women’s Hospital/Harvard Medical School. During his training, Chokshi performed clinical work in Guatemala, Peru, Botswana, Ghana and India.

Chokshi also served as a White House Fellow in the Obama Administration and was the principal health adviser to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. In 2016, President Obama appointed him to the Advisory Group on Prevention, Health Promotion and Integrative and Public Health.

Chokshi now lives in Jackson Heights, just a few blocks away from Elmhurst Hospital, with his wife, a public school teacher and Queens native of Dominican and Argentinean descent, and 14-month-old daughter.

“I saw what this virus did to my community, to my neighbors and to my fellow healthcare workers,” he said. “But his epidemic is only the most recent example of the vicious cycle of illness and inequity that I’ve seen over my career. Each of those experiences further forged my conviction that we must build toward better health systems with prevention at the center and a more proactive approach to avoidable human suffering.”

Along with his new position as commissioner, Chokshi will continue his clinical practice at Bellevue Hospital, where he’s taken care of patients as a primary care physician since 2014.

“The patients I take care of every week at Bellevue Hospital, often immigrants working as taxi drivers or housekeepers, remind me of the journeys of so many of my and my wife’s family members,” he said. “Each of them deserve excellent, high-quality care, but all of them would derive even more benefit if their diabetes or their opioid addictions could have been prevented in the first place — that is the promise of public health.”

In 2012, Chokshi served on the FEMA delegation to New York City after Hurricane Sandy, coordinating with the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on a door knocking initiative to bring food and medication to stranded seniors in high rises across hard-hit areas of the city.

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.

In his speech, Chokshi talked about the toll natural disasters and disease can have on people’s mental health. He also emphasized how socio-economics contributes to health challenges.

“COVID-19 has unmasked how disease, racism and economic dislocation intersect with devastating health consequences,” he said.

Chokshi said embodying his core values of “truth, justice and kindness” will help the department succeed and get through COVID-19. He said he’s already confident he’s joining a team that “care deeply about science, equity and compassion.”

“For us to succeed together, lifting up low-income people to their highest state of health will need to be seen not as charity but as fundamental to building a better health system for all of us,” he said. “I am not daunted by the challenges, I am motivated by them.”

According to The New York Times, Barbot resigned via email Tuesday morning over her “‘deep disappointment’ with the mayor’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak and subsequent efforts to keep it in check.”

During the press conference, de Blasio thanked Barbot for her service and her important work during the pandemic.

“It was a tough, tough moment for the city, everyone had to do their best,” he said.

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