By Arlene Edmonds
Special to The CS&T

Dr. Phyllis Dennery knows first-hand that public health care can work. The Haitian native grew up in Ottawa, Canada, where government-funded health care is a reality.

As chief of Neonatology and Newborn Services at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, she has also seen what happens when patients come into the hospital without insurance.

However, Dennery is the first to admit that public-funded health care is not perfect. For instance, when her own mother had to have knee replacement surgery in Canada recently she was placed on a waiting list.

If she had been enrolled in a private health insurance program in Pennsylvania the procedure would have been performed sooner.

“So, Mom had to wait a few more months to get that done last year,” said Dennery, a member of St. Cyprian Parish in West Philadelphia. “If she were here and didn’t have health insurance it would have cost $30,000.”

As Dennery listens to the health care debates she is amazed with “the amount of misinformation” that is circulating. She said that in most countries that have public health care options, health insurance is offered on a sliding scale.

“If you are poor then you don’t pay anything, and if you are a little better off you contribute according to an income scale,” she said.

As a practicing Catholic, Dennery is a proponent of life. For her, the life of a child is important both before and after birth.

“I am not that kind of Catholic that is protesting against abortion and then not (advocating) for children who are already (born),” she said. “I feel that once the child is born they should not live under deplorable conditions. Health care reform is about these children. Children need to have parents who have access to health care, so that they are around to take care of them.”

Dennery earned her medical degree from Howard University, served on the faculty at Stanford University and is currently a tenured professor of pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania.

For Dennery, education and especially education for young people on human sexuality is an important part of the health care debate.

“We must address the educational component face on,” said Dennery, a married mother of two teenagers. “Obviously working in education I am a big believer in education of our young people. They have to understand anytime you have sex, a pregnancy could result and one could be faced with the consequences.”

On the other hand, she suggested, parents must educate their children about sexuality and its place in marriage. “Parents need to be proactive and not bury their face in the sand assuming their children will abstain. I see even Catholic young people at the hospital who are not abstaining. We have to give our children the resources they need to (live chastely).”

Dennery insists that her faith compels her to be a health care reform proponent. Naturally, her health care is covered by her employer. Gregory, her husband of 22 years, and their children Ariana, 17, and Miles, 15, are also insured.

“As we look around the world, it’s eye opening to see what people have to work with. We should be grateful that we have the health resources we have in this country,” she said.

“I am thankful for what we have, but I also want others to have health care resources. If I have to pay some extra each month, whatever it will cost, to make sure that others are insured, I am willing to do it. That’s how I live out my faith.”

Arlene Edmonds is a freelance writer and St. Raymond of Penafort parishioner. She may be reached at