BRADENTON, Fla. — With the expectation that more N.F.L. players will suffer dementia from repeated head hits, businesses that cater to people with memory loss are gearing up for what could be droves of new clients in the near future.
One company, Validus, based in Tampa, Fla., has gone the furthest, striking a deal last year with the N.F.L. Alumni Association to provide special treatment to former players with dementia.
The agreement, the first of its kind and one that could show the way for other companies and care facilities, lets Validus promote itself to the association’s 4,500 members and use the association’s logo on its website, which could help draw other clients. Ex-players who move in are promised white-glove treatment, including specially designed beds and bathrooms for their large bodies, and football-themed decorations and other reminders of their gridiron days.
The company plans to build 33 facilities over five years in or near N.F.L. cities across the country, starting with one that will open in September in Ocoee, outside Orlando, where a big concentration of N.F.L. retirees live. Facilities are also being built in Atlanta, Houston, Jacksonville, Fla., and New Orleans.
By teaming up with the association, Validus is preparing for what actuaries predict will be a growing number of former players who will suffer from dementia in the coming years.
An actuarial report commissioned by the N.F.L. found that 28 percent of all players would be found to have one of the compensable diseases included in a settlement with retired players who had accused the league of hiding from them the dangers of concussions.
The diseases include Alzheimer’s, dementia, Parkinson’s, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
As important, the company also knows that the former players have access to a gold-plated benefit that few Americans have: The N.F.L.’s 88 Plan, which provides up to $130,000 a year for those with full-blown dementia, A.L.S. or Parkinson’s disease.
“It’s a no-brainer to offer them this quality,” Steve Benjamin, the chief executive of Validus Senior Living, said during a tour of his center here. “When people beat up on the N.F.L., they don’t realize that the players get a lot of care,” he added, referring to retirees. “No one is even close to having those kinds of benefits.”
The N.F.L. Alumni Association, which relies on membership dues and contributions from the league, has formed more than a dozen alliances, most of which are focused on providing health-related services to retired players. The association recently struck a deal with LightForce, a company that, in conjunction with participating doctors, provides players with free laser treatments to relieve pain and swelling. It works with L.A. Fitness,Cancer Treatment Centers of America and LabCorp, among others.
Its partnership with Validus is more complex because the cognitive abilities of affected former players are diminished and they may not know they are being used to promote a business. Though Validus says it does not disclose players’ names without permission from their families, the logo of the Pro Football Legends, the commercial arm of the association, is on the Validus website, as is a testimonial from the partner of Ordell Braase, a former player who lives in a Validus home.
The site also includes photos and a testimonial from Sylvia Mackey, who cared for her husband, John, a former Baltimore Colt who had dementia. Her activism led the league and the players’ union to set up the 88 Plan. (Mackey wore the number 88 when he played for the Colts.)
The links between Validus, the association and, by extension, the league might suggest to potential residents that they would rub shoulders with former players if they lived in a Validus facility.
Gay Culverhouse, the former president of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers who helps retired players in need, said she would have no qualm if the alumni association recommended several assisted living facilities to its members. But she has opposed the Validus partnership because it endorsed one company over another.
She also said the alliance pushed the boundaries of good taste by using players with memory impairment to promote a business.
“You can’t use players as bait to help Validus,” she said. “Don’t put these guys on show. N.F.L. players who are demented are being exploited. They are marketing with no advantage to the players.”
Benjamin said that former players living in Validus facilities were not used in any advertising. He declined to disclose the names of the players who live in the center here, about an hour south of Tampa.
Joe Pisarcik, the president of the Alumni Association, said that he had no trouble with a player providing a testimonial, but that a player should not be used in marketing materials without his consent. In fact, Hipaa, the federal privacy law protecting health care information, forbids him from disclosing the names of players who live in Validus facilities.
“I can’t even tell my board of directors who’s in there,” Pisarcik said.
Pisarcik and the board of directors said they were impressed by Validus and its plans to serve former N.F.L. players.
Each Validus facility will be able to accommodate about 150 residents, though Benjamin said that only 5 percent may be former players.
“But that’s still a lot of N.F.L. guys,” he said.
The key, though, is that players accepted into the 88 Plan will have little trouble paying the roughly $5,500 a month needed to stay at a Validus facility.
Benjamin said residents paid for about 90 percent of their costs out of pocket, with insurance covering the rest. By contrast, starting April 1, N.F.L. players can receive up to $130,000 a year through the 88 Plan if they live in an assisted living facility, up from $100,000 before.
“This is the best program I’ve seen relative to taking care of mom and dad,” Benjamin said.
The league introduced the 88 Plan after embarrassing revelations about how families were left caring for former players whose minds had deteriorated. Sylvia Mackey was among the most vocal in exposing how little the league did on the behalf of these families. John Mackey, who played for the Colts and the Chargers from 1963 to 1972, was found to have frontal temporal dementia in 2000, and eventually needed continual in-home care. He died in 2011.
Source:The New York Times