N.Y. official to lead Baltimore's health department

Oxiris Barbot chosen for technology knowledge, experience with underserved populations

July 07, 2010|By Meredith Cohn, The Baltimore Sun

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake plans to announce Wednesday that Baltimore's next health commissioner will be a veteran public health official from New York City, one who began her life in the South Bronx projects but went on to attend Yale and train as a pediatrician.

Oxiris Barbot was chosen from a list of more than 40 candidates to replace Joshua Sharfstein, who left last year to become principal deputy commissioner at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

For the past seven years, Barbot has served as the medical director of New York City's Office of School Health, a program run jointly by the health and education departments. She was in charge of implementing health policy in the nation's largest school system.

There, she created an electronic medical records system for more than a million students.

Rawlings-Blake was particularly struck by that accomplishment, along with her medical experience and history of working with underserved and minority populations in community health centers in Washington.

"It was not just her background, but her use of technology," she said. "I was impressed by the way she automated the health records. ... I expect her to bring some innovative programs to the city."

She expects Barbot to use her broad background to tackle problems such as obesity and the health disparities between those in richer and poorer neighborhoods.

Barbot was one of four finalists presented to the mayor by the search committee, led by Michael J. Klag, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Klag cited Barbot's varied experience running a major program, working in community health and handling public health problems from H1N1 flu response to providing health care for the Latino population. "She's tackled tough issues," he said. "She's shown she can lead a large organization. And she's someone who's got vision and can speak to the diverse community we have. She comes very well prepared."

Sharfstein, who was well regarded as health commissioner, said he'd known Barbot for years and agrees that she comes with the experience to tackle Baltimore's toughest public health challenges.

"Her experience in the health department in New York, her deep experience in school heath — a major role of the health department — and her broad clinical background prepare her," he said. "And clearly, she's very devoted to public health."

Dr. Roger Platt, chief executive officer at the New York Office of School Health, cited a couple of Barbot's key accomplishments in the field. He noted her role in developing the electronic medical record program for more than a million students and another program to improve the care of over 40,000 students with asthma. He called her "an outstanding medical director."

For her part, Barbot said she was interested in coming to Baltimore because she wanted to work in an urban environment where there were "real health issues that were ripe for intervention."

She said over her career she'd learned to look not just at individuals but the larger community and the aspects contributing to someone's health status, and those include gun and domestic violence, food issues and access to care.

"That's the essence of what I bring to the table," she said in a phone interview from New York. "Not only do I have a primary care background in underserved communities, but I also have training and experience in putting together primary care and public health."

She said she hopes to make the health department — with about 1,200 employees and a budget of $135 million — a more visible agency, as well as "more efficient and effective."

Her first day on the job in Baltimore will be Aug. 23. Olivia Farrow, the interim commissioner, is expected to stay in the Rawlings-Blake administration.



Oxiris Barbot

Age: 45

Current job: Medical director for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and Department of Education

Major accomplishment there: An electronic records system for more than a million students

Past employment: Chief of Pediatrics Division and Community Medicine for Unity Health Care Inc. in Washington

Other academic appointments: Clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at New York University School of Medicine

Education: Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University; Doctor of Medicine from the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, New Jersey Medical School; and pediatric resident at George Washington University/Children's National Medical Center

Special skill: Fluent in Spanish

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