NYC health chief under fire for alleged remark about police

In this Feb. 26, 2020 file photo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, left, with Dr. Oxiris Barbot, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, listens to a reporter's question in New York. DeBlasio says he's investigating a report that the city's health commissioner spoke dismissively of the health concerns of police officers during a heated phone call with a top police commander in the early days of the coronavirus crisis. The Mayor said he wants to speak with Barbot and NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan to "understand exactly what happened" during the exchange in late March. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
In this Feb. 26, 2020 file photo, Mayor Bill de Blasio, left, with Dr. Oxiris Barbot, commissioner of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, listens to a reporter's question in New York. DeBlasio says he's investigating a report that the city's health commissioner spoke dismissively of the health concerns of police officers during a heated phone call with a top police commander in the early days of the coronavirus crisis. The Mayor said he wants to speak with Barbot and NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan to "understand exactly what happened" during the exchange in late March. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

NEW YORK – New York City’s mayor expressed concern Thursday over a heated phone call in March between his health commissioner and a top police commander over what was then a dangerously thin stockpile of face masks.

During the call, which took place as health care workers were desperate to obtain more protective gear to treat thousands of coronavirus patients streaming into hospitals, Health Commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot clashed with NYPD Chief of Department Terence Monahan, who wanted more masks for officers.

The New York Post, citing an anonymous source, reported late Wednesday that Barbot retorted, “I don’t give two rats’ asses about your cops,” during the call. It didn't report what Monahan said to prompt that response.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said he wants to speak with both Barbot and Monahan to “understand exactly what happened," as police unions and a congressman called for Barbot's firing.

“No public servant should ever, in any way, say anything disrespectful about the men and women of the NYPD. They protect us. We need to protect them," de Blasio said. “To me, it would be inappropriate for anyone, particularly in a leadership role, to suggest any lack of interest in protecting the men and women of the NYPD. That would be, to me, a real inappropriate statement."

A spokesman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene confirmed “there was a heated exchange between the two where things were said out of frustration, but no harm was wished on anyone.”

The department said Barbot had apologized to Monahan "for her contribution to the exchange.”

“The apology was accepted, and agreement was arrived between the two to ensure that respirators were delivered to members of the force,” press secretary Patrick Gallahue said. “This has always been about saving the lives of our health care workers, police officers and every New Yorker who is fighting through this pandemic.”