Grandson’s aim is to change system
Her grandson, Aaron Byzak, said he was notified by his aunt after the injury.
The initial report from the facility, he said, was that the injury was just a little bump on the head, so he said he was surprised when he noticed a contusion on Mensching’s shoulder. Byzak, a former emergency medical technician, said he asked his grandmother what hurt most. She pointed to her right leg.
Lifting her pant leg, Byzak said he got another surprise.
“I could see that there was some deformity in the bone, in the way that the leg was sitting,” Byzak said. “At this point, I’m getting pretty upset because she’s clearly very injured, and no one’s called 911.”
The situation, he said, reminded him of others he had seen as a member of a private ambulance crew that often responded to calls at long-term care facilities.
“One of the things that really stood out was when people were really sick or injured and the facilities just failed to call 911 in a timely manner,” he said.
Byzak, director of government and community affairs for UC San Diego Health System, has created a Facebook page to rally others for reform at assisted living centers. He calls it Hazel’s Army.
A beloved resident
The day of the injury, Byzak went along to the Tri-City Medical Center emergency department, where an X-ray confirmed a double spiral fracture of his grandmother’s right leg.
The image, he said, showed a double spiral fracture of the lower right leg. A medical examiner’s report states that the leg fracture was a contributing factor, though not the only factor, in Mensching’s death.
Since this was the woman who raised him in the absence of his parents, Byzak felt compelled, he said, to piece together what happened during the van accident that led to the injury.
Hazel Mensching was a resident of the Emeritus Oceanside assisted living facility at the time of the accident on Feb. 7. Byzak declined to name the facility, but it was identified by name in the medical examiner’s report.
In an email, Emeritus said that Mensching was among residents who embarked on a scenic tour of the area in the facility’s van. Her wheelchair was strapped to the van’s deck, but no one fastened a seat belt around her waist. A sudden traffic stop — Byzak said the driver thought better of gunning through a stale yellow light — catapulted the woman from her wheelchair into a solid metal railing or seat back.
In its statement, Emeritus said the driver spotted only a scrape on her arm and, after getting her back in her chair and applying antiseptic, kept going.
“She said she was OK and wanted to continue the tour,” Emeritus said.
Byzak said his grandmother’s advanced age and many ailments should have pushed the van’s driver to immediately call 911 after the accident. Emeritus did not disagree.
“The driver should have immediately called 911 per Emeritus policy,” the company’s email states, adding that the driver was fired and it was an isolated incident.
“This accident occurred because Emeritus policies and procedures were not followed by a staff member,” the company said, adding that it increased seat belt training after the incident.
The company also expressed its condolences to Byzak and his family.
“Mrs. Mensching was a much beloved resident and her loss was devastating to us, especially to our staff who became her extended family,” the email said.
From the inside out
Having studied health care management, Byzak is aware that the best facilities in the world make mistakes. Health care is delivered by human beings, after all. What stuck in his craw, he said, was the fact that it took hours, and his personal insistence, to get his grandmother to the emergency room.
Under state law, assisted living homes are not health care facilities. Their staffs are not required to have medical certifications. But Byzak says more could be done through advocacy to help the industry train itself to more quickly recognize and respond to true emergencies.
In 2000 or 2001, Byzak said, his ambulance was called to an assisted living facility in the Poway or Rancho Bernardo area to transport to the nearest hospital a resident who had fallen. When he arrived, Byzak said, he found an elderly man with a head wound so severe that the bleeding had soaked through three towels.
“I took the gauze dressing off his head, and when I took it off, I could see into his skull and it was shattered. His skull was shattered and he had a huge laceration on his forehead,” Byzak said.
He said he would see incidents like this about once a month and tried to tell those in power what was going on.
“I went to a bunch of officials’ offices and said, ‘Hey, this is what I’m seeing.’ There was no interest,” Byzak said. “I said, ‘OK, I’m going to go into health policy, and I’ll become influential and I’ll do it from the inside out.’ ”
“Mrs. Mensching was a much beloved resident and her loss was devastating to us, especially to our staff who became her extended family.”
—Statement from the Emeritus Oceanside assisted living facility