Sammy Mack

Health News Florida Reporter

Public radio. Public health. Public policy.

Most days, Mack covers health care policy for WLRN – Miami Herald News and Health News Florida. Her health care journalism is supported by a fellowship with the Kaiser Health News and NPR Health Care Reporting in the States project.

Like most folks who've worked at a member station, she's worn a lot of hats: interim digital editor during the re-launch of WLRN.org, assistant producer for The Florida Roundup, morning news producer, intern coordinator, party planner. She was one half of the StateImpact Florida education reporting team. 

Her stories have appeared on NPR, Monocle 24, the Miami Herald, Global Health, Health News Florida, Gambit Weekly, MAP Magazine, Gulfshore Life, Philadelphia Weekly, the St. Petersburg Times (now Tampa Bay Times) and other outlets.

Mack’s work has been honored with Florida AP Broadcaster and SPJ Sunshine State awards. She’s collaborated on projects that have won a Third Coast International Audio Festival bronze award, an Emmy, regional Edward R. Murrow awards, a Wilbur Award and a Dart Award. Mack was a writing fellow during the 2008 Poynter Summer Fellowship for Young Journalists.

She was recognized by her colleagues as the 2011 Herald Top Chef. She’s happy to share her recipe for garam masala macarons with lemongrass filling.

Ways to Connect

The Affordable Care Act has achieved at least part of what it set out to do—but there are still quite a few questions about the long-term impact of the health legislation, according to a new study published in the journal Health Services Research.

WLRN Facebook Live video screenshot.

There's only one place in the continental U.S. where mosquitoes are known to be transmitting the Zika virus: Miami's Wynwood neighborhood. Pregnant women are arming themselves against mosquitoes.

WMFE

The number of locally-acquired Zika cases keeps rising in South Florida, and that means hard conversations between doctors and patients who want to get pregnant.

It’s been a little over a week since it was confirmed that the Zika virus has spread locally in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood.

In the heart of that neighborhood is The Wynwood Yard—an all-outdoor food and culture venue. Within hours of the Zika announcement, Della Heiman—founder of the Wynwood Yard and owner of Della Test Kitchen—temporarily closed the space. She decided not to charge rent to the six other businesses at the Yard for the week they’ve been closed.

Airplanes dispersed insecticide over Miami early Thursday morning, and according to officials they’re already seeing a lot of dead mosquitos.

Gov. Rick Scott and Dr. Tom Frieden—who heads the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—made the announcement at a press conference in Doral on Thursday afternoon.

“As you know, they did aerial spraying this morning and they killed a lot of mosquitoes,” said Scott.

Late last fall, Dr. Christine Curry was at a faculty meeting with her colleagues when the conversation turned to new reports linking the Zika virus to a surge in microcephaly in infants in Brazil.

"I think it’s fair to say that most obstetricians had never heard of this virus a year ago," said Curry, who is an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and Jackson Memorial Hospital.

Florida Department of Health

Pregnant women are being asked to stay away from the Wynwood neighborhood in Miami.

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a Zika-related travel warning for pregnant women to an area just north of Downtown Miami after 10 more people were suspected of getting the virus locally.

sportzsafe.com

Dr. Dr. Gillian Hotz is the director of the KiDZ Neuroscience Center and the sports concussion program at the University of Miami. And now, she can add videogame developer to her resume.

This fall, Hotz is piloting an educational video game with youth football leagues across the country.

The game is called SportzSafe. And it’s designed to teach young players how to prevent, identify and address concussions.

Florida health department officials have been tight-lipped about the investigation into a possible locally-transmitted case of Zika virus in Miami-Dade County.

Floridians with chronic diseases like asthma and COPD may have one more problem to worry about: sea-level rise.

The Health And Sea Level Rise: Impacts on South Florida report released Monday maps out sea-level rise projections alongside health data from Palm Beach County down to the Keys—and there were some surprises about who’s at risk.

  Medical debt is one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in the United States. Having health insurance is no guarantee against being swamped by bills after an emergency or a big procedure.

But one Palm Beach County man has found there’s room to negotiate.

Climate change isn’t just an environmental problem. If you ask Michael McGeehin, climate change is a health crisis.

McGeehin is an epidemiologist who spent more than 30 years at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He developed the CDC’s Climate Change Program.

McGeehin was recently in Miami for an international epidemiology conference. And he spoke with Health News Florida about how public health is threatened by changing rain patterns, sea level rise and heat waves:

The Florida Department of Health reports a child in Miami-Dade County has come down with a case of measles.

 

According to a release from the health department, the child who came down with measles had not been vaccinated.

The department said public health officials would be notifying people who may have been exposed.

The health department did not say where the child may have traveled before or after getting sick.

The measles virus can hang in the air and continue to be infectious up to two hours after the sick person has left the room.

  The number of Zika cases in Florida has grown to 188—which includes 38 pregnant women who are being monitored by the state.

So far, all of those cases are travel-related. But public health officials are bracing for local outbreaks.

Florida Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip was in Fort Lauderdale Thursday to give a presentation on the state’s Zika plans to the Broward legislative delegation.

Mental health care ranks among the most expensive kinds of health care in American medicine—and having a 

mental illness or behavioral disorder can drive up costs for other kinds of care.

But new research suggests that the Affordable Care Act has helped young people with mental illnesses afford health care—especially young blacks and Latinos.

Medical bills can be incredibly confusing and difficult to read.

But do you have a better idea?

No, seriously, do you?

Federal officials are all but certain there will be a Zika outbreak in the continental U.S. this summer.

The mosquito-borne virus continues to spread in Central and South America and the Caribbean. It’s linked to severe birth defects and other serious side effects.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, spoke with WLRN about what this all means for Floridians:

What Floridians can expect:

Health News Florida has been reporting that Florida’s health insurance companies are asking for double-digit rate increases.

Federal officials are all but certain there will be a Zika outbreak this summer.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, explained, “In the next couple of months as we approach the very active mosquito season, we project that we will see local outbreaks of Zika particularly in the Gulf Coast area around Florida Texas and other states.”

On a Thursday afternoon, 17-year-old Brendon Santana is sitting cross-legged on his bed, cradling a ukulele as he sings Karen O’s Moon Song.

I'm lying on the moon

My dear, I'll be there soon

His bedroom is plastered with Beatles memorabilia and paintings of instruments.

It's a quiet and starry place

Time's we're swallowed up

In space we're here a million miles away

Muhammad Mahdi Karim / Wikimedia Commons

The Zika pandemic has gotten people talking about mosquito control.

But humans aren’t the only ones affected by mosquito-borne diseases in South Florida.

Florida kids go to the emergency room more often than kids in the rest of the country—even when they have insurance—according to a new analysis from the Health Care Cost Institute.

The researchers at HCCI analyzed three years of insurance company billing information from Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealthcare and Kaiser Permanente to look at trends in how children are receiving health care.

They found that children in Florida and across the country are going to the doctor less often, but when they do it’s getting more expensive.

Florida Blue

The insurance company Florida Blue says its rate increases were published too soon on the Obamacare website.

The numbers that were briefly available showed as much as an 11 percent price increase on some plans.

Charles Elmore of the Palm Beach Post first saw the numbers when he was surfing the HealthCare.gov website.

  Florida health care advocates and politicians are making the case that health care access is a religious issue.

Health-care prices are complex and in many ways secret—which can affect how much you end up paying for your health care.

But not everyone agrees on what transparency in health-care pricing should look like.

You can listen to a story about what we mean when we talk about transparency here:

Real prices for health care are complicated and oftentimes secret. Health News Florida, WUSF and WLRN have launched an online guide to bring clarity to health care costs. PriceCheck Florida is a database of prices of common health care procedures and supplies.

You can search the database, and you can contribute information about the prices you paid.  

This week on Florida Matters (Tuesday, April 26 at 6:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 1 at 7:30 a.m.), we sit down with project founder Jeanne Pinder and Health News Florida reporter Sammy Mack to talk about how the database works and why it’s needed. We also feature a discussion on the impact of health care costs on employer-based insurance.

Ask what something costs in medical care and you could easily come back with a half dozen different answers. Health care costs are complex and often secret.

That’s part of why WLRN, WUSF and Health News Florida are launching PriceCheck, a reporting project aimed at bringing clarity to the cost of health care in Florida.

Florida hospitals continue to have some of the highest Caesarean delivery rates in the country, according to a new analysis out from Consumer Reports.

“People might find differences in nearby hospitals, so they really have to look at a map and at the rates and see what stories the numbers are telling,” said Doris Peter, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center.

Chronic diseases--like diabetes, obesity, heart disease and some cancers--are the leading cause of death across the country. They disproportionately affect many minorities and people living in poverty.

Your life expectancy depends a lot on where you live—down to the very neighborhood, according to a new analysis from Virginia Commonwealth University and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The distance between Downtown Miami and the city’s Overtown neighborhood is about a mile. The difference between life expectancies in those two places? Fifteen years.

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