Dr. Phyllis Harrison-Ross, a pioneering black pediatrician, psychiatrist, prison monitor and mental health administrator, died on Jan. 16 in Manhattan. She was 80.
The cause was lung cancer, Elinor Tatum, her goddaughter and the publisher of The New York Amsterdam News, said.
Dr. Harrison-Ross was a ubiquitous presence in the mental health field in New York and nationally for more than 35 years. She was an early leader in designing rehabilitation and therapy for children with a combination of severe developmental, emotional and physical disabilities.
She was also at the forefront of promoting teleconferencing to bridge gaps between doctors and patients, and what is known as televisiting, to link inmates in prisons in rural parts of upstate New York to their families in New York City and other urban areas.
From 1973 to 1999, Dr. Harrison-Ross directed the Community Mental Health Center at Metropolitan Hospital in East Harlem and was the hospital’s chief of psychiatry.
She helped form the New York City Federation of Mental Health,Mental Retardation and Alcoholism Services in 1975; was president of the Black Psychiatrists of America from 1976 to 1978; and was chairwoman of the New York City Directors of Psychiatry in Municipal Hospitals in the late 1980s. In 2000, she founded the Black Psychiatrists of Greater New York & Associates.
Dr. Harrison-Ross served on President Richard M. Nixon’s National Advisory Council for Drug Abuse Prevention and the New York State Commission of Correction and was chairwoman of the commission’s Medical Review Board. She recently said that since 1976, she had reviewed the deaths of thousands of people in state and local custody.
After the attack on the World Trade Center in 2001 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, she mustered her colleagues to provide interfaith disaster services and became the volunteer president of All Healers Mental Health Alliance, which seeks to organize long-term responses to mental health needs that arise from natural and man-made disasters.
Dr. Harrison-Ross was also an emeritus professor of psychiatry and behavioral health services at the New York Medical College. She wrote numerous articles and two books: “Getting It Together,” a textbook for junior and senior high school students, and, with Barbara Wyden, “The Black Child: A Parents’ Guide.” Of “The Black Child,” The New York Times Book Review said, “Everyone can learn something from this book.”
Phyllis Anne Harrison was born on Aug. 14, 1936, in Detroit to Harold Jerome Harrison, a teacher who became deputy superintendent of the Detroit public school system, and the former Edna Smith, a social worker and professor at Wayne State University.
She was accepted to Albion College in Michigan when she was 15 and graduated with a bachelor of science degree in 1956. Three years later, she was the only black woman in the graduating class of Wayne State University’s College of Medicine.
Her husband, Edgar Lee Ross, died in 1996. No immediate family members survive.
Last July, she was featured in an article in The Times about issues facing older people when they move to smaller living quarters. She had lived in the same large apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan for 48 years.
Dr. Harrison-Ross trained as a pediatrician and as a psychiatrist, interning at Bronx Municipal Hospital and Albert Einstein College of Medicine. There she helped develop therapeutic programs for multiply handicapped preschool children at what is now known as the Rose F. Kennedy University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities. New York officials replicated the programs statewide.
In 2004, she received the American Psychiatric Association’s Solomon Carter Fuller Award for African-American Pioneers.