As Massachusetts reached a grim milestone in the coronavirus pandemic — the 1,000th death to the disease in the state — the chief executive officer of one of the region’s largest healthcare company said, so far, they “are still able to keep up” with the surge of cases.
“Our folks are working around the clock, and working very, very hard. And at the same time, we’re still able to provide care to anybody and everybody that needs it,” Dr. Kevin Tabb, the president and CEO of Beth Israel Lahey Health, told Jim Braude on WGBH News’ Greater Boston Wednesday.
But with 1,108 deaths and nearly 30,000 cases in the state, and worst of the outbreak still to come, Tabb was clear the hospitals he oversees have been hit hard.
“We have within the Beth Israel Lahey Health system over 700 patients either COVID-positive or suspected and we have close to 170 of them in the [intensive care unit] on ventilators,” he said. “We actually have over 1,000 Beth Israel Lahey staff who are either COVID-positive or quarantined. That’s a staggering number.”
The system’s flagship hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, is also at the forefront of the race for a coronavirus vaccine. A lab at the hospital is partnering with the pharmaceutical arm of Johnson & Johnson, which along with the federal government, is investing more than $1 billion in the effort.
But Tabb said, despite some CDC projections that a vaccine could be ready for first responders in the fall, a finished product is still a long way off.
“We are moving at lightspeed, but I think it would ... be unlikely that we’ll see [a] vaccine for widespread use that would be ready [by] fall,” he said. “I think that everybody seems to believe that 12 to 18 months, if we were able to get everything right, would be the earliest we would see something.”
“I’d love to be proven wrong,” he added.
Tabb also weighed in on President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States’ funding from the World Health Organization yesterday. He called the move — which would strip the organization of roughly 15 percent of its budget, just as cases top two million worldwide — “absolutely not” the right thing to do.
“The virus doesn’t respect boundaries of states, of countries,” he said. “Anything we do to detract from response at the international level is gonna come back and hit us here at home.”
But while international cooperation may be in question, Tabb said local leaders have pushed politics and economics aside to tackle the crisis together.
“It is amazing and one of the wonderful things to see [is] how the entire healthcare community has come together,” he said. “I speak multiple time [a] day with CEOs throughout the healthcare system. It doesn’t matter what sort of competition existed there before. We’re all there to try and solve this issue.”
Despite the fears that keep him up at night, Tabb said he’s hopeful for the future.
“I worry about whether or not we’re going to be able to protect our healthcare workers. I worry about whether or not we’re going to have enough equipment and beds and things for the peak that is coming. I worry about how we recover from all of this,” he said. “But what makes me comfortable is that I know we have amazing people on the ground, working around the clock, to make sure people get the care they need. And that’s really all that you can ask.”
“Everything I’m seeing tells me we’ll be able to get through this," he said.