We the Patients

Woman with picture of her mother

A series of medical errors turned a grieving daughter into a patient advocate – Mary Brennan-Taylor

Healthy and full of life at 88-years old, Alice Brennan was looking forward to her 70th high school reunion. An exciting and monumental achievement for anyone to make it to. She even jumped in to help plan the event. It was a shock, when a sudden health problem sent her to the hospital, where she would spend the last six weeks of her life.

Could things have been different? Could Alice have made it to her reunion? Caught up with her lifelong friends and spent an evening rekindling connections. It’s hard when we hear stories like this because the answer yes. Alice had much more of her life to live, if she weren’t a victim of a series of preventable, medical errors. In those last six weeks, Alice contracted multiple Healthcare Acquired Infections and had several falls.

Alice’s daughter Mary Brennan-Taylor spent those last six weeks doing everything she could to keep her mother alive. Overwhelmed with the unimaginable weight that comes with taking care of a sick parent, she didn’t realizing the harm that was happening behind the scenes.

The death certificate was her call to action.

After her mother passed, Mary began making arrangements. She met with funeral director, they showed Mary the death certificate. Under cause of death, two words were penned across the page: MRSA and C. diff. Translation? Alice’s death was the result of an infection she received from her care in the hospital. Mary was horrified, realizing the harm that had been done and the preventable actions that could have been taken to save her mother.

Mary, a (then) health advocate for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, had advocacy in her blood. Not looking for vengeance but reform, she began telling her story to anyone who would listen.  Mary wanted to honor her mother’s memory, make a lasting change to our health care system.

Mary began advocating for change.

For the last 9 years, Mary has helped train future medical leaders. Her mother’s story acts as a “case study” and cautionary tale of how small errors can lead to heartbreaking outcomes. Mary feels inspired to create a generation of true change agents. She asks students to look out for the most vulnerable – the elderly, poor, those who do not speak English, and those who do not have internet. These patients have the odds stacked against them and are much more likely to become a victim of a medical error and not have the agency to demand retribution.

When we asked Mary what would she like to see in the future of medicine? She answered simply, “A rating system.” A system that holds hospitals accountable. By grading the institutions we take our friends and family to, consumers could trust they are getting the kind of care they expect. It would take the confusion out of picking the right doctor or facility.

Mary gives advice if you find yourself in a situation, like she was with her mother 10 years ago.

  • Emotional exhaustion is real, (as Mary puts it, “it can feel like you are walking through molasses”), make sure you take care of yourself.
  • If you are able, document everything: dates, individuals involved, recreate the calendar.
  • Contact the Dept of Health: lodge a complaint and ask for an investigation.
  • There is no way that hospitals will change unless people are raising the flag. DOH will only notice if people are reporting and will pay attention is enough people call.