It’s been about 25 years since Grey-Bruce had a full-time a child and youth psychiatrist, but Dr. Melissa Muniz-Cohen is here to change that.
The Brooklyn-born, 43-year-old married mother of a nine-year-old daughter moved her family to Owen Sound this month from Pittsburgh, where she was a community psychiatrist, largely seeing patients on medical assistance or otherwise facing socio-economic challenges.
But there was increased administrative work to do and she was finding it becoming difficult to provide the best care, she said. She also faced what felt were “revenue-driven demands that kind get in the way,” she said in an interview Thursday.
“And it seems we’re in the opportunity (here) to working in a system where that’s not so much of the consideration . . . It seemed like a good opportunity to truly develop my practice — especially somewhere where I really am starting from scratch.”
Here she’ll have offices at Grey Bruce Health Services’ Owen Sound hospital and at Keystone Child, Youth & Family Services on the city’s west side. She’ll be seeing the patients in the most need first, including those admitted to hospital.
She’s working with the pediatricians at GBHS and Keystone, the agency responsible for child and youth mental health services in Grey-Bruce, to develop a referral process.
“From the reactions of folks, it sounds like something that’s been in high demand,” she said, based on people’s enthusiasm for her decision to practise here, she said.
When Muniz-Cohen first looked into coming here, she didn’t realize it had been so long since someone practiced child and youth psychiatry full-time locally.
The system has relied on tele-psychiatry, which uses video links with Sick Kids hospital in Toronto, and twice monthly visits from Dr. Benjamin Loveday in London. He will continue to come here, hospital spokesman Mary Margaret Crapper said.
It’s been about 25 years since this area had its own child and adolescent psychiatrist, she confirmed.
But Muniz-Cohen said she’s been struck with how well those providing services have coped.
“While I understand I was filling a longstanding void, I was also really impressed with how the needs of youth with mental health issues have been met in the interim, with the collaboration of general psychiatrists and the pediatricians, in addition to everything else they do.”
She praised Keystone for doing “incredible work as well. So while that might have scared off some folks (prospective child psychiatrists), I feel like there was a good foundation here.”
She learned of the position while speaking with people from a company that provides locum or temporary doctor placements, which was working with GBHS, during the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry general meeting.
She had been in Pittsburgh since 2004, went to medical school and trained at Western Psychiatric Institute there. Before she left, she was working for Pittsburgh Mercy, a mental health agency.
Phyllis Lovell, chief executive officer of Bruce Grey Child and Family Services, formerly the Children’s Aid Society in Owen Sound, said in an interview that the gap that Muniz-Cohen has to fill is substantial.
“We absolutely welcome and support the provision of this service in the community. That will be fantastic.”
Lovell’s career spans more than 35 years and she’s seen two other local psychiatrists specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry come and go. “Having had access to that support made that lack of support all the more difficult . . . .”
Having good diagnoses is particularly critical for those with multiple problems, to put in place good safety plans and provide appropriate medications, Lovell said.
“One psychiatrist I think will really struggle to keep up with the demand,” she said.
“I think we see young people with pretty serious addiction problems,” she said, noting fentanyl use and local deaths.
“I think we have a community that’s as alarmed and concerned as ever about addiction issues with young people, about the prospect of suicide for young people, about the prevalence of anxiety disorders.”
Muniz-Cohen is one of more than 10 new doctors who have moved to the area in the past year. Here’s a list of them from Grey Bruce Health Services:
Emergency Medicine: GBHS Owen Sound Hospital, Dr. David Wonnacott
Family Medicine – Owen Sound Family Health Team: Dr. Shaun Dooley, Dr. Libby Cox (Dr. Cox will also support the GBHS addictions clinic)
Family Medicine – Community Health Centre, Markdale: Dr. Roderick MacNeil
Psychiatry: Dr. Louis Obikaonu (based out of GBHS Owen Sound Hospital, and providing outpatient support through our community mental health partners)
Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, GBHS Owen Sound Hospital: Dr. Melissa Muniz-Cohen
Hospitalist Medicine – GBHS Owen Sound Hospital: Dr. Inna Vasilevskaya
Ears, Nose, Throat: Dr. Emile Roux
Urology: Dr. Kyle Lehmann
Family Medicine Residents: Dr. Claire Schiller, Dr. Erica Ferguson (originally from Kimberley), Dr. Clea Machold (originally from Creemore), Dr. Kelly Fenn. The family medicine residents complete two years of training with the Owen Sound Family Health Team, with specialty rotations across GBHS hospitals.