The three hospitals on “Pill Hill” in Sandy Springs have direct expenditures of more than $1.3 billion a year, creating a combined economic impact of more than $3 billion a year, a Georgia Hospital Association official told members of the Perimeter Business Alliance.

A panel of local health-care industry officials discusses health care at Cox Enterprises’ headquarters building during the Perimeter Business Alliance’s “Center of Excellence” luncheon Sept. 21. Panelists, left to right: Daniel J. Styf, vice president of regional and marketing strategy for Kaiser Permanente; David Tatum, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta vice president for governmental affairs; Richard Tanzella, vice president of operations for Piedmont Heart Institute; and Glenn Pearson, executive vice president of the Georgia Hospital Association.

The three hospitals – Northside Hospital, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Scottish Rite Hospital, which is part of Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta – employ more than 8,700 people and are responsible for the creation of 18,825 jobs, Glenn Pearson, executive vice president of the GHA, said Sept. 21 during the PBA’s inaugural “Center of Excellence” luncheon, which focused on the health care industry.

“The economic impact – sometimes it’s hard to get your brain around it, but it’s huge for this area,” said Russ Davis, director of marketing and public relations for Northside Hospital, who moderated the PBA panel discussion.

Davis said Northside employs 6,000 people and brings 3,000 workers to its campus daily as it treats 600,000 patients a year.

The PBA is a recently created association of businesses in the Perimeter area, which includes portions of Sandy Springs, Dunwoody and Brookhaven.  The group’s first luncheon discussion focused on the economic impact of the hospitals and medical offices located near the intersection of Ga. 400 and I-285, an area nicknamed “Pill Hill.”

Pearson was part of a panel of local health care officials that also featured Daniel Styf, vice president for regional and marketing strategy for Kaiser Permanente; David Tatum, vice president of  governmental affairs for Children’s Healthcare and Richard Tanzella, vice president of operations for the Piedmont Heart Institute.

Davis said the concentration of medical offices in the area can seem a mixed blessing.

“We provide easy access to some of the country’s best health care close to home or close to work,” he said.

But all those health-care workers and patients concentrated in one area can produce traffic troubles. “We still do have a traffic problem on Pill Hill,” he said.

But others on the panel said traffic was worse in other parts of town with concentrations of medical facilities. “If you want to hear about traffic, I’ll tell you about Egleston [Hospital, another unit of Children’s Healthcare] on the Emory [University] campus,” Tatum said. “This is nothing compared to that.”

Sandy Springs Mayor Eva Galambos asked the panelists about the proliferation of urgent care and primary care clinics along Roswell Road. She said four had opened in the past six months.

Panelists said the clinics were a response to the high price of medical care as they often can provide front-line health care more cheaply than large hospitals can through emergency rooms.

Davis said Northisde didn’t consider the centers as competitors for its emergency room business.  “It goes to the changing health-care environment because people are unemployed or uninsured,” Davis said. “I think the market right now is right for those types of centers. Will they last long term? It remains to be seen.”

Panelists also said it was difficult to gauge the long-term effects of the federal Affordable Health Care Act, generally nicknamed “Obamacare” after the president. “I have no idea what’s going to happen in the long run with the Affordable Care Act,” Tatum said.

Joe Earle is Editor-at-Large. He has more than 30-years of experience with daily newspapers, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.