Wilmington, NC – April 9, 2019 — PS Solutions, a software development firm with offices in Wilmington, NC, as well as Pittsburgh and Altoona, PA, last month released a new app designed to help identify those at risk for committing suicide which utilizes the renowned Columbia Protocol. This free smartphone app provides instant access to simple questions which have been successful in helping identify suicide risk. Blair County, PA was the first to develop an app using the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) and provide local contact information to nearby crisis centers. The app is now offered in North Carolina and can be customized to connect directly to local crisis centers.
“North Carolina’s suicide rate is higher than the national average,” said Wayne Hippo, co-founder of PS Solutions. “That’s one of the reasons we wanted to bring this free app to the attention of our citizens and those who serve this community. It’s a way to help members of our community who need it most.”
The free iOS and Android app provides access to the C-SSRS, which prompts a few simple questions that gauge when an individual is at risk for suicide then recommends an appropriate level of mental health support. The list of questions can be answered within a few minutes. App users are also offered contact information for crisis centers, which can be customized to include local contacts.
“We need to get everyone in our communities asking these questions,” said Dr. Kelly Posner, Director of the Columbia Lighthouse Project, “Just think of how many lives we can save if every parent, police officer, teacher and neighbor downloaded and used this app.”
More than 20 years of research validates relevance and effectiveness of the C-SSRS. Seen as the gold standard in assessing suicide risk, it is globally. For people who have thought about suicide, simply being asked these questions can come as a relief. One study found that asking the questions reduced distress in depressed respondents.
According to a March 2019 study conducted for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the increase in the national suicide rate from 2016 to 2017 was the largest annual increase in nearly 20 years. Suicides rose by 4% from 2016 to 2017 and 22% from 2008 to 2017. Worldwide, almost 1 million people die by suicide each year; one life lost every 40 seconds.
The idea for the app came from Blair County Pennsylvania, and it is the first county to offer customized local information. Other regions are encouraged to provide local crisis centers contact information, which is based on a user’s phone location. Information on app customization is available through email: info@PSSolutions.net.
PS Solutions is a software development firm headquartered in Altoona, Pennsylvania, with offices in Pittsburgh and Wilmington, North Carolina. PS Solutions takes a creative approach to solving companies’ technology problems, employing a diverse group of software and project management professionals to develop software in the U.S.
America’s first app designed to help save those with suicidal thoughts has been developed by PS
Solutions and introduced first in Blair County, Pennsylvania. Based on the Columbia-Suicide Severity
Rating Scale (C-SSRS), the Columbia Protocol App provides instant access to a few simple questions that
can help save the life of someone considering suicide.
“Our county’s crisis line has 200 to 400 calls every year,” said Jim Hudack, director for the Blair County
Department of Social Services and person responsible for the initial idea. “This app is another way to
offer help to the members of our community who need it most.”
Users download the iOS or Android app to access questions that gauge when an individual is at risk for
suicide; it then recommends an appropriate level of mental health support. The list of questions can be
answered within a few minutes, after which users are offered contact information for local and national
“We need to get everyone in our communities asking these questions,” said Dr. Kelly Posner, Director of
the Columbia Lighthouse Project, “Just think of how many lives we can save if every parent, police
officer, teacher and neighbor downloaded and used this app.”
With over 20 years of research to validate its relevance and effectiveness, the C-SSRS is seen as the gold
standard in assessing suicide risk and is used by governments, schools, and communities across the
globe. For people who have thought about suicide, simply being asked these questions can come as a
relief. One study found that asking the questions reduced distress in depressed respondents.
Blair County operates one of the busiest crisis centers in the state of Pennsylvania, despite having a
population of 124,000. In Blair County, 23 residents took their own lives in 2018, a 64% increase from
the 2016 total and above the national average of 14.5 deaths per 100,000.
According to a March 2019 study conducted for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the
increase in the national suicide rate from 2016 to 2017 was the largest annual increase in nearly 20
years. Suicides rose by 4% from 2016 to 2017 and 22% from 2008 to 2017. Worldwide, almost 1 million
people die by suicide each year — equal to one life lost every 40 seconds.
PS Solutions, headquartered in Altoona, Pennsylvania, with offices in Pittsburgh and Wilmington, North
Carolina, was chosen by Blair County to develop the app. The app will work as-is nationwide, sending all
callers to the national hotline; it can also be customized by PS Solutions to include contact information
for hotlines in other counties, cities, and states, which would be delivered based on the user’s phone
TO DOWNLOAD: Search the app store for Columbia Protocol. It will say it’s by “PROFESSIONAL STAFFING SOLUTIONS, LLC.”.
It can be found on the Play Store for Android or the App Store for iOS
Sometimes opportunity is subtle, sometimes it hits you over the head, and sometimes it actually seems to worm its way into your consciousness. PS Solutions might be any one of those, depending on the time frame. But in January of 2009, it was as though the clouds parted and said: “NOW!” Wayne Hippo and Joe Merilli had bantered about the idea of starting a business 10 years earlier, but somehow the timing just didn’t seem right. Jobs, civic commitments, family affairs all weighed too heavily. But in late 2008 they revisited the idea. After more than 20 years in technology and human resources, Joe watched his employers as they scaled and grew. Wayne had spent 20 years advising businesses, municipalities and working in employment law. They were both in the ‘Rolodex’ business, having built strong relationships for years across technology industries. It was time they built this for themselves. The start was easier than they thought, with connections that spread across southwestern Pennsylvania. They began simply as an extension of companies’ HR departments, placing technical experts in organizations, finding the right skills and the best personality match.
Shortly after the business started growing, they noted that the demand for outsourced software continued to grow. As Joe is, first and foremost, a tech guy, this part of the expansion came very naturally. After identifying some projects with their current clients, they hired contractors for PS Solutions, becoming their own customer. Soon there was so much work they were directly hiring software developers in full time positions on the PS Solutions team. “We are fully committed to our team,” said Hippo. “They are the ones that make our company work, so we take care of them not just with salaries, but also with the best benefits package we can assemble.” It works. The employees appreciate the opportunity to have a solid place to work with challenging projects. And it helps that they are truly impacting the American employment landscape. In fact, PS Solutions now has three very different offices: Altoona, Pittsburgh and now Wilmington, NC. “We watched as company after company outsourced their software development, taking jobs away from Americans because it was cheaper overseas,” said Merilli. “We found a way to ‘Offshore America’ – to build a strategy where we employ really smart people in smaller towns where the cost of living is lower and the quality of life higher. It’s really win-win-win-win… for the employees, the small cities our
clients and America.”
So, where does PS Solutions go from here? As pragmatic as Merilli and Hippo are, you can guess: it’s the next logical step. PS Solutions is developing their own software and application packages. Within the month, PS Solutions will launch their first app, becoming a software vendor themselves. And given their propensity of community focus, the app will be consequential: nothing short of helping prevent suicide.
Keep your eyes here on this blog… We’ll continue to bring you the stories that paint with clarity what the next decade will deliver.
It’s a sobering fact: Suicide is the number 1 killer of adolescent girls. It is the second-leading cause of death among all people ages 15 – 29. It is no wonder, then, that the Blair County (PA) Commissioners are anxious to find a way to curtail this threat to our next generation.
During the Blair County (PA) Commissioners meeting on January 8th, 2019 (watch the TV report), the commissioners voted to fund a new app to help first responders and county social workers determine the risk level for suicide. PS Solutions was awarded a contract to develop an app that utilizes the Columbia Lighthouse Project’s protocol, which establishes a series of guidelines for helping those at risk.
The app, which will be operational on both Android and Apple devices, is being developed by PS Solutions. The concept, however, came from the Blair County social services director.
“We spent years carrying around little cards with questions and color-coded answers on them,” said Jim Hudack, Director of Blair County Social Services. “What happens when you can’t find that little card? I’ll tell you – I’m never without my phone, so I asked Joe if creating an app would be possible.”
The Columbia Lighthouse Project’s Suicide Prevention App provides a list of questions to ask, ranging from “have you ever felt like taking your life” and “if so, have you ever thought about how you would do that?” There is a color-coded system for responses, helping to alert the person asking the questions to whether there is an urgent need for help (red) to if it’s a typical situation (green).
The app will provide a resource primarily for first responders but is available for use – for free – by anyone. It is currently in development, with delivery expected by early February. For more information, call PS Solutions at 814-942-7888.
Altoona Development Center
1601 Eleventh Avenue
Altoona, PA, 16601
Pittsburgh Development Center
1500 Ardmore Boulevard
Pittsburgh, PA, 15221
Wilmington Development Center
2109 Capital Drive
Wilmington, NC, 28405