Dave Chokshi was named as the new commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene on Tuesday. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio appointed him to the role following the resignation of former Commissioner Oxiris Barbot. Here are five things to know about the man who will help lead the city’s ongoing efforts to keep New Yorkers safe from the coronavirus.
He’s taking over at a difficult time
While the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, with shocking death tolls and overloaded hospitals, is hopefully behind New York City, the pressure is still on city health officials to help guide the continued reopening while avoiding another surge in cases. That means balancing political and economic pressures with what is best from a public health standpoint – the same pressures that apparently led to Barbot’s resignation. The former commissioner and other higher-ups reportedly butted heads with de Blasio from the earliest days of the pandemic in March, largely over concerns that the mayor wasn’t listening to health experts.
He’s coming from NYC Health + Hospitals
De Blasio has appeared to be favoring the city’s public hospital system, New York City Health + Hospitals, over the city’s health department throughout the pandemic. That was shown most clearly when he assigned the coronavirus contact tracing program to Health + Hospitals over the health department, which has a long history of contract tracing experience. So choosing Chokshi, who has been a part of Health + Hospitals’ senior leadership, could be seen as a move to better align the health department’s leadership with de Blasio’s public health worldview.
Chokshi has been with Health + Hospitals since 2014, and most recently served as its chief population health officer, where he reportedly led the system’s transition to telemedicine during the pandemic. He left leadership in May, but continued his work as a primary care internist at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, while also working as a clinical associate professor at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine. He’s published extensively, most recently authoring “Emerging Lessons From COVID-19 Response in New York City” in the Journal of the American Medical Association along with Health + Hospitals President and CEO Mitchell Katz.
He’s isn’t even 40 yet
Chokshi is just 39 years old and was recognized by Crain’s New York Business on its 40 Under 40 list last year, along with other government figures like New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson. And just last month, City & State recognized Chokshi as one of New York’s 100 most politically powerful Asian Americans. A quick look at the doctor’s résumé shows why. He was raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and graduated from Duke University before getting his master’s degree as a Rhodes scholar at the University of Oxford. He earned his medical degree from University of Pennsylvania, then did a clinical fellowship at Harvard Medical School. He came to New York City in 2011 and worked as special adviser to then-New York City Health Commissioner Thomas Farley. He went to Washington for a year to serve as a White House Fellow in President Barack Obama’s administration and as the principal health adviser to the secretary of Veterans Affairs, then came back to New York to work as a senior adviser to then-state Health Commissioner Nirav Shah. He joined Health + Hospitals in October 2014, not long after de Blasio took office.
He’s a man
Barbot’s resignation is just the latest note in de Blasio’s checkered track record with female leaders. There’s a gender pay gap at City Hall that is even larger among top officials, and women of color who have worked for de Blasio say they have felt marginalized. Barbot leaving her position is reminiscent of the 2018 resignation of her predecessor, Dr. Mary Bassett. Chokshi will be another man leading a city agency, but as the son of immigrants from India, he will help the de Blasio administration’s leadership reflect the diversity of the city. Other high-level South Asian appointees include Counsel to the Mayor Kapil Longani and director of the Mayor’s Office of Resiliency Jainey Bavishi.
He’ll keep seeing patients
Despite taking over as the city’s health czar, Chokshi plans to keep up his clinical practice as a primary care doctor at Bellevue, according to a press release from the de Blasio administration. He’s not the only public servant in the family – the mayor’s office said Chokshi’s wife is an educator in the New York City public school system. They live with their 14-month-old daughter in Elmhurst, Queens, just blocks from Health + Hospitals’ Elmhurst Hospital. Chokshi is a registered Democrat who supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election.
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