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Bears legend died after wandering unsupervised at care facility

Hall-of-Famer George McAfee, who played running back for the Chicago Bears in the 1940-1941 season and then again between 1945 and 1950, died in 2009 while in the care of an assisted living facility in Atlanta. The four-time NFL champion, aged 91, had developed dementia, and the assisted living home now stands accused of allowing him to wander the facility unsupervised. Tragically, that wandering led directly to his death.

According to a recent ABC News report about the incident, McAfee was not supervised by his caregivers when he wandered into a housekeeping room. He apparently drank a bottle full of caustic, industrial-strength detergent, which burned his lips, esophagus and lungs. When staff discovered him, his lips were black and, according to his daughter, his face looked like a “horror show death mask.”

“It was horrible, horrible,” his daughter told reporters. “I cannot begin to tell you how horrific it was. We just hope he wasn’t conscious.”

McAfee’s family sued the facility, and the case was settled out of court. However, the lawsuit uncovered a troubling fact: during the half-hour when McAfee wandered off, there was no one on duty to supervise patients in that part of the facility.

McAfee’s tragic death was part of the reason for a new documentary on nursing homes and assisted living facilities that ABC will begin airing tonight at 9:00 p.m. Central time. The film, “Life and Death in Assisted Living,” focuses on issues involving facilities operated by one of America’s largest nursing home companies — which operated the assisted living facility where McAfee died.

The focus of the film is on how the for-profit nursing care industry operates and how their business model may contribute to nursing home neglect and abuse, including unsupervised wandering, bed sores, assaults and other such issues. The filmmaker concludes that understaffing, poor training and profit-based policies are behind the seemingly systemic failure of skilled nursing facilities to protect vulnerable patients.

Over the next 15 years, a million more Americans will reach age 70, the filmmaker notes. If an NFL Hall of Fame player with an active family isn’t safe, who is?

Source: ABC News, “Dad Dies After Drinking Poison in Assisted Living,” Susan Donaldson James, July 30, 2013

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