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Stanford doctor in talks to be head of Beth Israel

'Please know that while we are closer to naming a new leader, there are important steps the board . . . must take,' said Stephen Kay, Beth Israel chairman. "Please know that while we are closer to naming a new leader, there are important steps the board . . . must take," said Stephen Kay, Beth Israel chairman. (Bill Brett for The Boston Globe)
By Liz Kowalczyk
Globe Staff / August 19, 2011

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Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, one of Harvard’s major teaching hospitals, is negotiating with a Stanford physician to become its next chief executive.

The board this week offered the job to Dr. Kevin Tabb, the chief medical officer of Stanford Hospital and Clinics in California, according to two people close to the process who wish to remain anonymous because they are not authorized to speak.

But, they cautioned, the board and Tabb are still working out salary and other details of his employment contract.

Hospital officials would not comment yesterday. Late Wednesday, after a board meeting, chairman Stephen Kay e-mailed a statement to Beth Israel Deaconess employees saying that the board had closed in on a leading candidate.

“In the next few days, you may hear or read in the media about who will be BIDMC’s next president and CEO,’’ he wrote. “Please know that while we are closer to naming a new leader, there are important steps the board and a leading candidate must take before this action becomes final.

“As soon as the process is complete, the physicians, employees, boards, and community partners of BIDMC will be informed immediately,’’ Kay said.

Tabb said yesterday he could not comment.

An internist with extensive experience in health care information technology and quality improvement, Tabb would return a physician to the hospital’s top post if a deal is finalized. The previous chief executive, Paul Levy, had a management and urban planning background.

The other major Harvard teaching hospitals - Massachusetts General, Brigham and Women’s, and Children’s - are led by physicians. Many doctors within Beth Israel Deaconess felt it was important to have a physician at the helm as the health care industry braces for dramatic changes in how providers are paid. Some physicians and employees said they are looking forward to the next chapter.

Levy, who was chief executive of Beth Israel Deaconess for nine years, steered the hospital from the brink of financial failure to stability and pushed for greater transparency of costs and quality across the hospital industry.

But his achievements were clouded by investigations last year into his close relationship with a female employee, and the board fined him $50,000 last May for undisclosed lapses in judgment. Levy and the board agreed he would leave in January, after colleagues questioned his level of engagement during his first comprehensive performance review.

Tabb received his medical degree from Hebrew University’s Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem in 1993.

He was hired by Stanford in 2005 as chief quality and medical information officer, and was later promoted to chief medical officer, according to the Stanford website. He was previously the president of clinical data services for GE Healthcare Information Technologies.

He also worked as director of disease management and clinical data services for the information company MedicaLogic/Medscape, and as a clinical informatics analyst for iKnowMed, an electronic medical record system for cancer care, the website said.

The new chief executive of Beth Israel Deaconess faces significant challenges in the next several years.

Medicare and Medicaid, as well as private insurers, are trying to aggressively hold down medical costs while demanding that hospitals and physicians prove they are providing high quality care.

Some hospitals are merging because executives believe larger systems will provide care more efficiently.

“Boston is going to be a real battleground,’’ said Stuart Altman, professor of national health policy at Brandeis University in Waltham. “We have a lot of systems and a lot of [hospital] beds. It’s going to be an aggressive time, and I would not be surprised to see more consolidation.’’

Lahey Clinic in Burlington and Beth Israel Deaconess had preliminary discussions about merging, but those talks were put on a back burner during the search for a new Beth Israel Deaconess chief executive.

Altman said Beth Israel Deaconess is reasonably well positioned because it provides good care at a middle-of-the-road price. The hospital has about 630 beds and last year treated about 42,000 overnight patients and 537,000 outpatients.

But, Altman said, the hospital will probably have to figure out how to develop a broader network of primary care physicians and community hospitals. Health care technology such as electronic medical records, which allow doctors to better coordinate patient care, are an important piece in developing an integrated network, which could make Tabb’s background important.

But, Altman said, “No hospital CEO over the next decade is going to have an easy time.’’

Liz Kowalczyk can be reached at kowalczyk@globe.com.