Media Advisory: UB launches ‘Team Alice’ to combat medical errors and polypharmacy in the elderly

Release Date: March 14, 2019 This content is archived.

Mary Brennan-Taylor teaching med school students; standing in front of photo of her mother when hospitalized.

As part of Patient Safety Awareness Week, Mary Brennan-Taylor will tell the story of her mother's tragic death, due to medical errors. 

“This isn’t a made-up case study; it’s a real case that has so many different problems in it. It encourages them to identify what they think they would have done if they had been on the care team. ”
Ranjit Singh, MD, Associate professor of family medicine and director, UB's Primary Care Research Institute
Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

BUFFALO, N.Y. — According to Consumer Reports magazine, medical mistakes are one of the leading causes of death each year in the U.S., deaths that could have been prevented. In the face of a problem of this magnitude, family members whose loved ones have died this way sometimes feel they have no choice but to take matters into their own hands.

Mary Brennan-Taylor is one of them. Since the death of her mother, Alice, from medical errors in 2009, Brennan-Taylor has told this tragic story to students, health care providers and policymakers locally and nationally in hopes of changing both health care culture and policy.

She has been invited to speak at national meetings of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National publications, such as ProPublica and JAMA Internal Medicine, have covered the story of Alice’s death.

What: This week, as part of Patient Safety Awareness Week, Brennan-Taylor will tell Alice’s story to more than 200 pharmacy, medical and physical therapy students from the University at Buffalo, and physician assistant students from D’Youville College. Patient Safety Awareness Week is recognized nationally each year to advance discussions and inspire action to improve the safety of the health care system. After the talk, student teams will discuss how they might have worked to prevent some of the mistakes that resulted in Alice’s death.

When: On Thursday, March 14, from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Where: In the M&T Auditorium, second floor, Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, 955 Main St., Buffalo. Media are invited to attend. Contact Ellen Goldbaum at or 716-771-9255 on-site.

Sponsored by UB’s Office of Interprofessional Education, Thursday’s event is the result of a collaboration between the Department of Family Medicine in the Jacobs School, the School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, the School of Public Health and Health Professions and UB’s Center for Successful Aging.  

Thursday’s presentation also marks the formal launching of Team Alice, an innovative research and advocacy initiative based in the Center for Successful Aging. Team Alice was inspired by Alice’s story and Brennan-Taylor’s tireless efforts to work for changes to the health care culture that caused her death.

“Alice’s case was initially used as interprofessional instruction for our medical students,” said Robert Wahler, PharmD, clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice and a member of Team Alice. “It has now expanded to a research team of more than 15 interprofessional faculty, staff and students from various health disciplines all focused on working to reduce medication harm in the elderly through a variety of approaches.”

Through Team Alice, Brennan-Taylor, Wahler and Ranjit Singh, MD, associate professor of family medicine and director of UB’s Primary Care Research Institute, are developing a partnership in Western New York focused on deprescribing, reducing the prescribing of unnecessary and sometimes harmful medications in the elderly. They hold regular meetings of local stakeholders, including insurance plans, providers in private practice and the area’s Regional Health Information Organization, HEALTHeLINK.

In addition, the group is partnering with Erie County’s Department of Senior Services to convey to patients and caregivers that they should bring a healthy skepticism to prescription medications and that they may benefit from a non-drug alternative, if one exists.

After Brennan-Taylor’s talk, the students will break off into interdisciplinary working groups, where they will engage in a quality improvement exercise, analyzing what happened in Alice’s case.

“This will be a very meaningful part of the afternoon,” said Singh, a member of Team Alice. “It really engages the students to look at a real-life case. This isn’t a made-up case study; it’s a real case that has so many different problems in it. It encourages them to identify what they think they would have done if they had been on the care team.

“They will be challenged to work together to come up with creative, evidence-based solutions so that this tragic outcome is not repeated,” he said.

Media Contact Information

Ellen Goldbaum
News Content Manager
Tel: 716-645-4605