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Beth Israel Deaconess CEO ready for changes

Tabb says he expects to improve efficiency, form partnerships

The current Stanford medical chief said transparency will 'remain important for me and for the institution, that won't change.' The current Stanford medical chief said transparency will "remain important for me and for the institution, that won't change."
By Liz Kowalczyk
Globe Staff / September 7, 2011

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Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center yesterday finalized a contract with its new chief executive, Dr. Kevin Tabb, a physician who spent most of his adulthood in Israel before becoming a rising star at Stanford.

He landed in Boston late Monday night and spent yesterday in meetings with managers and physician leaders and walking the floors of the Harvard teaching hospital, chatting with employees.

Tabb, 47, who is the chief medical officer of Stanford Hospital and Clinics in California, will start his new job Oct. 17. The hospital did not disclose his salary or other terms of the agreement.

Tabb said in an interview that it is too soon for him to lay out a detailed strategy, but that he expects to focus on preparing the hospital for the looming changes in the health care system, by improving efficiency and aligning with other hospitals and doctors groups.

“This is the most competitive market in the country, and we need to be ready for change,’’ Tabb said of the hospital. “It’s clear to me we’re going to have to form partnerships, that’s one of the very first things I‘ll be working on.’’

Tabb, though, declined to comment on preliminary talks between Beth Israel Deaconess in Boston and the Lahey Clinic in Burlington. Those informal discussions this spring were put on the backburner while Beth Israel Deaconess searched for a new chief executive.

Board chairman Stephen Kay said that aside from being the board’s unanimous choice, Tabb was favored by both senior managers and physicians, in a rare across-the-board meeting of the minds. “He did blow us all away,’’ Kay said in an interview. “He has a very good record at Stanford.’’

The Globe reported three weeks ago that the hospital had chosen Tabb from an original field of about 150 candidates, but that contract terms were still to be negotiated.

Tabb, who has never lived on the East Coast, or even experienced winter, has an intriguing background. He grew up in Berkeley, Calif., where he became part of the Zionist youth movement. He left his family at age 18 to live on a kibbutz in Israel and then served in the Israel Defense Forces, the country’s military, for three years.

Tabb met his wife, Caron Tabb, in the military and went to college at Hebrew University and to medical school at Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, both in Jerusalem. He trained at Hadassah Hospital. Tabb said he had planned to remain in Israel permanently, but after 20 years, he decided to return to the United States to work in health information technology.

His wife’s family still lives in Israel, and they visit there often.

Kay said Tabb’s ties to Israel were not a factor in hiring him, but he said they could be an asset, given the hospital’s historic importance to the Jewish community, which is a major source of philanthropy to Beth Israel Deaconess.

Tabb initially worked for two medical data companies before joining General Electric to oversee collection and organization of medical data. He went to Stanford in 2005 as chief quality and medical information officer.

Kay said Tabb was “on a very fast track’’ at Stanford, becoming chief medical officer two years after arriving, and he convinced doctors “to do things that are not easy to get people to do, during a period of extreme change.’’

Dr. Alan Garber, provost of Harvard University, worked with Tabb at Stanford on improving the quality of patient care until Garber started his new job at Harvard this month.

Garber said in an interview yesterday that when Tabb came to Stanford, the hospital “had very disappointing ratings for quality’’ and the first reaction of many doctors was to deny the problem.

Tabb, Garber said, was able to sort out where the ratings were inaccurate and where Stanford was truly weak, and then persuade doctors to improve.

For example, he got doctors to communicate better verbally and in writing about their patients’ problems when transferring their care to other doctors and nurses.

“Stanford’s quality ratings improved dramatically,’’ Garber said. His success “was widely recognized by the medical community at Stanford. He is very sensitive to the politics of an academic medical center. He’s the right kind of leader’’ for Beth Israel Deaconess.

Tabb will succeed Eric Buehrens, who has been interim chief executive since January, when former chief executive Paul Levy resigned.

Tabb said transparency will “remain important for me and for the institution, that won’t change.’’ But he said he has no plans to launch a blog. Levy became known for his online presence through his Running a Hospital blog, where he often posted data about the hospital’s rate of infections.

Ellen Bender,a Massachusetts health care consultant, said “timing is quite urgent in our market’’ for hospitals like Beth Israel Deaconess, especially with the growth of Partners HealthCare System and Steward Health Care System, two large hospital and physician networks.

“Organizations that are primarily unaligned, that are not developing scales of efficiencies, may well not survive long term,’’ she said. Tabb “will need to study the hospital’s recent strategic plan and map out his vision of how it will be implemented. My suspicion is that Kevin Tabb will come to BIDMC with high energy to consider long-term affiliation and partnership alliances as one of his first orders of business.’’

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