Kaiser continues expansion in metro Atlanta

Entrance to new Kaiser facility.
Entrance to new Kaiser facility in Sandy Springs

Kaiser Permanente of Georgia opened its 30th facility in the state Tuesday, with a new location in Sandy Springs.

The nonprofit health care organization said it has invested $6 million in the new primary care facility, which employs 60 and is located inside The Pavilion at Lake Hearn building near Northside Hospital.

Kaiser said the new facility  will provide primary care services previously offered at the nearby Glenlake site, which is being transformed into a center providing more specialized care.

The Sandy Springs office now offers adult medicine and behavioral health, as well as pharmacy, lab and X-ray services. Pediatrics and dermatology will become available there Oct. 1.

Kaiser has 29 facilities in metro Atlanta and one in Athens. It has been on an expansion track over the past four years, opening new medical offices in downtown Atlanta, Lawrenceville, Snellville, Conyers, Fayetteville, Newnan, Douglasville, West Marietta, Holly Springs, Decatur and East Cobb.

The health care organization also expanded its locations in Duluth and Kennesaw to create comprehensive medical centers offering extensive specialty care services. Two other such specialty centers are under construction in Atlanta and Jonesboro, Kaiser said.

“We’re thrilled to be able to offer our members another medical center where they can receive the high-quality, coordinated care that is Kaiser Permanente’s hallmark,” said Kerry  Kohnen, president of Kaiser Permanente of Georgia. “Whether our members walk into our Sandy Springs or Holly Springs locations, our electronic medical record system enables health care teams to access their health information and make informed care decisions.”

Kaiser Permanente of Georgia has ranked consistently at the top of health care quality scorecards among the state’s health plans. It is ranked No. 20 nationally among private health plans by the National Committee for Quality Assurance, which evaluates insurers based on customer satisfaction, treatment and prevention.

Yet Kaiser received a setback recently when its proposal to offer a metro Atlanta regional HMO for state employees in Georgia was rejected by the board of a state health agency.

The surprise 6-3 vote earlier this month by the Department of Community Health board reflected opposition to offering a choice of health plans in metro Atlanta when it’s not offered elsewhere in the state.

Still, Kaiser may gain new customers through offering coverage in the health insurance exchange in Georgia, set to begin enrollment Oct. 1 as part of the Affordable Care Act.

“They may get a significant piece of Atlanta membership in the exchange,’’ said Charles Goldberg, a health care consultant for Cognosante, a consulting firm.

The nonprofit maintains good customer satisfaction through strong primary care and a leading-edge electronic medical records system, said Goldberg, a former Kaiser employee.

“When you go to a Kaiser facility, your needs are going to be taken care of,’’ Goldberg added.

Kaiser currently has 238,000 members in metro Atlanta.

Dave Smith of Kearny Street Consulting, also a former Kaiser employee, noted that the nonprofit’s membership number has been fairly flat recently.

Smith, though, agreed that Kaiser could pick up a significant number of new members through the insurance exchange.

“They’ve made a major commitment in Atlanta, amid a lot of uncertainty in health care,’’ he said.