Police commissioner refuses to join clamor to fire NYC health chief Oxiris Barbot over coronavirus mask flap

Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and city Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea and city Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot

New York’s top cop on Thursday refused to join the police unions clamoring for Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot‘s dismissal over her heated words with the NYPD when officers tried to grab half a million high-grade masks at the peak of the city’s coronavirus pandemic.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said he didn’t know enough about the terse talk between Barbot and NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan that occurred in mid-March. The city’s head physician, incensed by cops unauthorized bid to commandeer some 500,000 N95s meant for under-resourced and overwhelmed frontline healthcare workers, told Monahan, “I don’t give two rats’ asses about your cops,” as the two argued by phone, according to sources.
“I think that facts matter here and, that’s nothing against any reports in papers, but let’s find out first, before any rash decisions, what actually happened here, in the middle of a pandemic," Shea said during an appearance on PIX 11. He said the headlines on the ugly exchange in The Daily News and other outlets were “very disturbing.”
“I think it’s a little preliminary,” Shea said about the demands that Barbot be fired. He added that he has not spoken to Barbot about the back-and-forth with Monahan.
“I don’t have any independent knowledge,” he said. "I don’t know the context of what was actually said.”
Sources said DOH staffers were completely taken aback when some NYPD officers appeared unannounced at an out-of-state FEMA warehouse to claim a huge stash of hospital-grade protective gear. They alerted Barbot, who called Monahan. The conversation got ugly, her office acknowledged, but Barbot later apologized.
“The Commissioner apologized for her contribution to the exchange, the apology was accepted and an agreement was arrived between the two to ensure that respirators were delivered to members of the force," a city Department of Health spokesman said.
Cops, who stayed at the warehouse for several hours while the issue was hashed out, were ultimately given between 50,000 and 100,000 respirators from the warehouse.
News of the flare-up emerged Wednesday night -- nearly two months after the actual incident but in the middle of a power struggle between Bill de Blasio and Barbot, who has fallen out of favor with the mayor, according to reports. Barbot, who early in the pandemic urged the mayor to close city schools and businesses and was ignored, was sidelined last week as the mayor handed the city’s new contract tracing initiative to Mitch Katz, the doctor running the city’s Health + Hospitals agency.
Shea said that during the height of the pandemic, when everyone was scrambling for protective gear, tensions flared everywhere, even between city agencies.
“We were at times scrambling and worried about the supply, reaching out to many people," Shea said. "We relied heavily on donors and other sources. It is very concerning.”

In a later live Twitter chat with cops, Shea referenced the spat with Barbot, claiming that his office would do anything to keep his cops protected.

“Nothing is more important to me, Terry, the entire executive staff... than your health and getting you the equipment you need to keep this city safe," he said. "We’ve been fighting for you from day one. We’ve begged, borrowed and stole to get you what you need.”

“I was kidding with the stole part obviously, so everyone relax,” Shea joked.

His levity contrasted to the blistering response of several police unions, who screamed for Barbot’s immediate firing.

“A so-called city leader, Dr. Barbot showed her true colors as a cop-hater. Five brave NYPD Detectives died as the DEA searched for protective equipment to purchase for our members while we waited for the city to distribute masks," Detectives Endowment Association President Paul DiGiacomo said late Wednesday. “Dr. Oxiris Barbot’s shameful behavior likely contributed to the further spread of this deadly virus.”

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