Shannon Hogan Cohen | Luneta Drive
There were a smattering of curious citizens at the Del Mar library on Wednesday, August 19th to listen and learn how tragedy can impact a family and turn devastation into a positive platform for others. Aaron Byzak, a former EMS operative turned healthcare lobbyist, who currently works with UC San Diego Health shared stories about an experience that left him taking matters into his own hands. His much-loved grandmother Hazel Mensching died from an untreated injury in a local assisted living facility in 2013. He discovered the current laws protecting our golden agers were beyond deficient.
I was flabbergasted when Aaron pointed out, only 40 hours of training will permit someone to operate a 100-bed facility compared to 1600 hours of training to qualify for a state license in Cosmetology. A fine will be issued of $150 for acts of negligence including incidents that lead to the death of a resident. “It’s nonsensical,” Byzak states with complete composure. “Someone can get fined $250 for parking in my grandmother’s handicapped space, but they are charged $150 if they kill her.”
Born from the death of his grandmother, Hazel’s Army advocacy organization was designed by Aaron and his family to give a voice to those who have lost their loved ones as the result of poor or improper care at Assisted Living Facilities. Aaron has partnered with policy makers to pass seventeen pieces of legislation at both the state and local levels in California, as well as four new policies in the County of San Diego. A publically searchable website and rating systems are now in place for these facilities, thanks to their collective hard work.
In addition to his advocacy, Aaron’s philanthropic efforts continue through a community education program he designed called Great Gen 2.0. He visits local high schools and challenges the kids to become the Greatest Generation by standing up for seniors. His goal is to illuminate the importance of previous generations by understanding their life context and perspectives. Hazel Mensching would be proud of her grandson. Hazel’s legacy lives on thanks to Aaron and his family for all their diligent determination to effect change in her honor. You can enlist in Hazels Army and discover additional information by calling (760) 889-3609, emailing HazelsArmy@yahoo.com or finding Hazel’s Army on Facebook.