The Coast News Group

Hazel’s Army founded to protect rights of elderly

OCEANSIDE — Aaron Byzak founded Hazel’s Army community group after he got a phone called that changed his life. His aunt called and said the hospice nurse reported his grandmother, Hazel Mensching, had a bump on her head.

When Byzak got to the assisted living facility where Mensching resided, two blocks from his house, he found much more had happened.

His grandmother had been on a facility-organized day trip. Her wheelchair was strapped into the bus, but she was not strapped into the chair. When the driver made a sudden stop she flew out of the wheelchair and landed several feet ahead of it. No 911 call was made. She was put back in the wheelchair and the trip continued.

When she returned to the residential care facility there was a visible bump on her head, but still no 911 call was made.

Byzak had worked as an EMT and now works as director of Government and Community Affairs for UC San Diego Health Sciences. When he arrived he checked his grandmother and found she had an injured shoulder and arm and broken leg in addition to the visible bump on her head.

“They let her sit for hours,” Byzak said.

Knowing that the most immediate help would come in response to a landline 911 call, he insisted staff make the call. Reluctantly they did.

His grandmother was taken to a hospital and died from the injuries a few days later.

Byzak described the lack of action by numerous staff members at the assisted living facility as “unthinkable.”

He said he was fueled with purpose to see that residential care facilities improve their practices.

“The goal has been to create an environment where seniors are better protected,” Byzak said.

“My grandmother died in a very tragic way. It’s not going to be in vain. It’s going to inspire change.”

Looking into matters further he found current laws were lacking. He shared examples of the minimal requirements assisted living facilities adhere to such as 40 hours of training to operate a 100-bed facility, 10 hours of training to work with a person with dementia, and a fine of $150 for acts of negligence including incidents that lead to the death of a resident.

“It’s nonsensical,” Byzak said. “Someone can get fined $250 for parking in my grandmother’s handicapped space, but they are charged $150 if they kill her.”

Byzak formed Hazel’s Army in 2014 to provide information, resources and raise the bar for assisted living facility care. He funds the group, which runs at minimal cost, himself.

The first year Byzak was involved in efforts that helped pass 12 state laws to protect individuals in residential care facilities. His focus has been on assisted living facilities that are overseen by the Department of Social Services. They are not subject to the more rigorous rules of skilled nursing facilities that are overseen by the Department of Public Health and have doctors on site.

New state and county laws Byzak helped pass have increased required training hours for residential care workers, added the requirement that facilities carry liability insurance, raised the fine for negligence to $15,000 and added protection from firing for whistle blowers. There are now double the number of ombudsmen who monitor facilities, and a database that families can access to gain information about facilities.

Byzak also formed a support network through the Hazel’s Army Facebook page where families can gain information and share their stories.

He said not all news about residential care facilities is bad. There are well-run facilities and caring individuals who work at them. His goal is to inform people of their rights, and raise the level of expectations for elder care.

This year Hazel’s Army will launch the GreatGen 2.0 program that will teach youth about the contributions of those dubbed the Greatest Generation for having served in World War II and lived through the Great Depression. The program will begin in February and involve local schools, YMCAs and senior centers. Byzak said the goal of the program is to grow a new generation of young people who have respect and affinity for seniors, and watch out for their welfare. The program will also work to inspire youth to do great things in their lives.

Hazel’s Army will hold a vigil this Friday on the sidewalk outside the assisted living facility where his grandmother formerly resided. The vigil marks the second anniversary of her death and serves as a shared memorial for families who have endured a similar crisis.

“It’s about bringing together people to remember those lost in assisted living abuse and neglect,” Byzak said.

A press conference will be held Feb. 13 at 5:30 p.m. at the Salvation Army on 3935 Lake Boulevard. The vigil will take place across the street immediately afterward. For more information go to

1 comment

dignity4dolores February 12, 2015 at 11:14 am

Thank you, Aaron, not only nursing homes but major hospitals throwing out the elderly. My mother did not receive multiple CT scan results and in their written report that she had a mass in her pancreas and radiologists documented also next tests recommended. We were never informed nor was she ever given the next tests. We found out by accident when I took her to their ER violently ill and or else we never would have known about the multiple Ct Scans over a period of 3 yrs that there was a mass in her pancreas. Lost was the chance to fight her cancer at a very early stage. When we asked questions instead of transparency they wanted to push her out of the hospital. It was an unsafe discharge she lost 45 lbs and we were in shock finding out they knew all this time and we were never told. Risk Mgmt then told me if I didn’t take her out of the hospital they were suddenly going to document she is “incompetent” (she was not), get a Public Guardian to make all of her decisions for her (the Public Guardian is a friend of the hosp. attorney) and revoke my Power of Attorney that I did not have her best interest at heart because I was keeping her in the hospital where there were germs and bacteria!! They said I would never see her again. My mother was the boss an Italian strong woman never incompetent and she said they must be doing it to other elderly people and that was true. She was not going to be intimidated to help them cover up their medical errors. They even filed a petition and bullied us saying they were going to destroy us – similar to the NY Times story last week about a nursing home trying to get Guardianship of his wife after they dropped her and said he owed $5,000 after he paid they withdrew the petition. With us, after I got beaten down I was forced to take her home – then they didn’t care she was with me after they portrayed me as not having her best interests at heart and even filed an emergency motion that she was in imminent danger of death! All of a sudden when I agreed to take her home they withdrew their petitions. THis is what is happening next if the adult children advocate don’t agree with the hospital profit making administrator they will take your Greatest Generation parent away from you have them under their control and restrict the access of the adult children by “reporting” them turning the tables on the family in order to cover up their medical malpractice. My mom died and when I went to get justice and meet attorneys the other shock is no one wants to take a case of the elderly on a contingency – they all said at 82 yrs old she lived past her “life expectancy” and it wasn’t “worth their time” because the award of damages would be so low! Outrageous my father landed in Normandy was wounded my mother tended to his injured knee throughout their marriage and she was a switchboard operator during WWII hired because she had long arms had Truman and Roosevelt on the line patching calls. She did not deserve to go out this way intimidated by young arrogant doctors and their MBA Administrators where a $ is worth more than a human life. I wrote to Pope Francis and he cared inviting me to a private mass and he is for the elderly saying we live in a “throw away” culture it is like an “euthanasia” of the elderly and not letting them speak or be heard. I have spent thousands paying hourly to get justice for my mom with attorneys doing nothing but help the powerful hospital. I won’t give up and would like to join with you. Please see the 3 part investigative series done about my mom click here

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