Culmination of a Career – Joseph Hurlbert and the 988 Lifeline

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Joseph Hurlbert - 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline

Local 17 is proud to announce that one of our long-time members, Mr. Joseph Hurlbert, an IT specialist and contracting officers representative with the Office of Information and Technology (OIT), was instrumental in the development of the recently announced 988 suicide and crisis lifeline run by the Department of Health and Human Service’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.  We’ll let Joe describe his involvement in his own words:

“It makes me proud that the VA provided me with the opportunity and platform for my most significant career accomplishment: the new 988 hotline number for National Suicide Prevention. 

As a VA employee, but outside of my assigned duties (a 7 ½ year effort), I developed a concept and action plan for a 3-digit dial phone number to access suicide prevention nationwide; the recently announced 988 hotline.  First, proof of concept came from a meeting with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s North American Numbering Council (NANC).  Next, proof of need and proof of impact came from a meeting with senior mental health professionals from the VA Veterans Crisis Line (VCL), HHS Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (NSPL).  This meeting was arranged with the help and advocacy of former VA Secretary McDonald.

About a year after that meeting, Congress passed a communications bill that included a feasibility study and directed VA & HHS to look at need and impact of 3-digit nationwide phone number to access suicide prevention assistance.  While I could not represent the VA at the FCC, I was allowed to participate in the FCC study conducted by the NANC in a public forum, with the agreement to report back to the VA on the progress of the FCC feasibility study. 

Since NANC meetings are public, I was allowed to submit comments to the public record as a private citizen and a subject matter expert on the subject.  The FCC granted me two private ex parte meetings with FCC legal and technical staff.  I was the only one challenging the telecom industry at a technical level.  My comments were cited five times in the FCC’s report to Congress (Google: Hurlbert FCC 988).  As a result of my work and advocacy, I’m proud that as of July 16, 2022, 988 is now the national 3-digit phone number to access suicide prevention. 

This effort was the highlight of my 50-year career to date.  I will retire at the end of August, but I may have one more volunteer gig planned that will cap off a great career.”

If you’d like more information on the lifeline, check out the website here:  https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/988.

Cheers to a great career, Joe!

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