REGION — Aaron Byzak remains convinced that if he had not checked up on his grandmother after what her caregivers described as “a little fall,” she would have never gotten proper medical attention after the accident that eventually caused her death.
“She probably would have died overnight and we never would have even known,” he said.
Last year, his grandmother Hazel Mensching was living in the memory care unit at Emeritus, a residential care facility in Oceanside.
Byzak credits his grandparents for raising him as a child, saying that visiting their home when he was younger was “a vacation in love.” He said Mensching was known for her snickerdoodle cookies.
On Feb.7, 2013, she was taken on a sightseeing excursion run by Emeritus. The van driver secured her wheelchair but failed to put her seatbelt on.
When the van was in a traffic accident, the 92-year-old Mensching was flung out of her wheelchair. The driver and a caregiver treated her for a scrape on her arm, and continued the trip.
Byzak said he went to see his grandmother after Emeritus staff notified his aunt that Mensching had sustained a minor injury.
He said that when he arrived, he found his grandmother crying and wincing in pain. An EMT for a few years, Byzak examined Mensching, discovering that she had a hematoma the size of a softball on her shoulder, a piece of her scalp has been scraped off, and she had a broken leg.
He demanded that staff call 911.
Mensching was taken to the hospital more than four hours after her accident.
“By the time we get to the hospital, she is screaming in pain,” Byzak said.
X-rays revealed that Mensching had a spiral fracture of her right tibia and fibula.
She died six days later, with her broken leg listed as a contributing factor to her death.
Byzak said that if it had not been for him, Emeritus staff would have never noticed her leg injury or taken her to the hospital.
“It seemed like people were very concerned with losing their jobs rather than my grandmother,” he said.
A statement from Emeritus Regional Director of Operations Debbie Infield affirmed most of the details of the accident.
However that account claimed that Mensching did not complain of pain and said she wanted to continue the outing.
But it also stated that the driver should have called 911 immediately after the accident as required by Emeritus policy. The driver was terminated for failing to do so.
“The resident was a beloved member of our family and her death was devastating to us,” the statement said.
Byzak also cites problems with how the state investigated the circumstances of his grandmother’s death.
The state community care licensing division cited Emeritus for staff’s failure to put a seatbelt on Mensching and call 911 immediately.
But according to Byzak, the facility was only fined $150.
“If they had illegally parked in my grandmother’s handicap parking spot, they could have been fined $250. But to kill her, they paid $150,” he said.
He is currently suing Emeritus for abuse, neglect, wrongful death, and other charges in a civil suit.
Byzak said the problems exemplified by his grandmother’s death are not limited to Emeritus but permeate long-term care facilities and skilled nursing facilities throughout the county and the state.
So he founded Hazel’s Army last summer to advocate for legislation that increases oversight of residential care facilities and to enhance consumer awareness.
He collects accounts of elder neglect and abuse at the hands of other residential care facilities from people throughout San Diego via the Hazel’s Army Facebook page. He shares other’s experiences with local, county, and state officials as part of his advocacy work.
He contributed to the District Attorney’s latest measures to investigate and prosecute crimes against the elderly, which were approved by the San Diego County Board of Supervisors on March 11.
He knows that getting effective legislation passed will take years, but that has not deterred him.
“It’s worth the investment of time because we are protecting our seniors,” he said.
“My grandmother’s death is not going to be in vain.”
For more information about Hazel’s Army, visit facebook.com/HazelsArmy.