Joey Helton, Atlanta

“My grandmother is no longer here, but I know she would be extremely proud.”

When Joey Helton was eight years old, he wanted to move to Nashville and become a country music star. His grandmother believed he could do something bigger and better. “My grandmother always pushed me to do more,” he recalls.

Growing up, Helton and his brother spent a lot of time with their grandmother. Their mother was a young, single parent, giving birth to Helton when she was just 15-years-old. She was also in and out of the hospital, sick with lupus. From their grandmother, the brothers learned basic, yet necessary life skills like cooking and cleaning. “We would spend Saturdays vacuuming and doing laundry, and I was miserable as a child,” he chuckled. “She always said, ‘One of these days you’ll thank me for this because you’ll know how to do these things.’” 

She was right. When Helton went off to college at East Tennessee State University, some of his peers floundered while he thrived in his independence. He continued to flourish, earning multiple degrees, including a doctorate—the first in his family. He’d come a long way from rural, small-town Rogersville, Tennessee. “My grandmother is no longer here, but I know she would be extremely proud.” Helton’s mother continues to have a significant impact on his life, encouraging him to work with community organizations like the ones that had helped his family throughout the years.

plans for new positive impact health centers

He has now worked with nonprofits for 15 years, most recently with Positive Impact Health Centers (PIHC) as chief operating officer. The organization provides HIV specialty care and support services, behavioral health treatment, and HIV testing and prevention services. When Helton joined PIHC in 2017 they had recently merged with another AIDS service organization; this resulted in an overlap of roles and responsibilities between staff members, and clashing work styles.

PIHC began working with Georgia Tech’s SimTigrate Design Lab to gain insight on how to improve the design of their two centers, including a new location in Decatur. The new layout is client-centered; it also supports better collaboration of the care team, improves coordination and communication of care between departments, and increases the amount of patient-provider interactions.

“The design and the layout of the two facilities now have really increased staff communication. It’s brought some of those barriers down.”

The expansion will also provide the square footage for an in-house pharmacy for patients. By providing a better experience for patients, PIHC hopes to improve patient adherence to care and ultimately their health outcomes.


Georgia Tech Connection

Jennifer Dubose

Jennifer R. DuBose is the associate director of the SimTigrate Design Lab and principal research associate in the College of Design at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She is responsible for the operations of the Lab as well project development and research. Her research focuses on evidence-based design for healthcare facilities projects including the development of a business case for evidence-based design, collaboration on the exhaustive 2008 literature review on the subject and investigating the role of innovation in improving design for healthcare systems.


Additional Images

Photographer Vision

“Because of its design and how intimate all the spaces feel, you don’t realize the scale of the Positive Impact Center until you step into one of the long corridors along its perimeter. It is a deceptively large structure. I stopped Joey Helton in one of these corridors. Impeccably tailored and groomed, his thousand-watt smile is larger than life, even in the cavernous back halls of the center. I liked the juxtaposition
Jerrold Mobley, Information Associate, Georgia Tech Library