Patient vanishes, turns up dead in hospital stairwell weeks later
San Francisco Chronicle
SAN FRANCISCO — The body of a woman found in a rarely used stairwell at San Francisco General Hospital is that of a patient who had been reported missing from the facility more than two weeks ago, officials said Wednesday as they tried to determine what went wrong.
The body of Lynne Spalding, 57, was discovered by an employee in an exterior stairwell on the fourth floor of the hospital about 10 a.m. Tuesday, said Dr. Todd May, the hospital’s chief medical officer, at a news conference at which officials declined to take questions.
Although the San Francisco medical examiner has not positively confirmed the woman’s identity: “We have enough information at this time to conclude it is Ms. Spalding,” May said. “Her disappearance has ended in tragedy. What happened at our hospital is horrible. ... Our staff is devastated. We don’t know what happened to this woman.”
Spalding’s 23-year-old daughter was notified earlier Wednesday that officials were fairly confident that the body was that of her mother.
It was not known how long the body had been in the stairwell — which is used as a fire escape — or how she got there, said Assistant Sheriff Paul Miyamoto. The interior door leading to the stairwell is alarmed and locked from the outside, Miyamoto said, adding that the stairwell “is not routinely used by staff, patients or the public.”
A member of the hospital engineering staff found the body during a routine quarterly inspection, he said.
The incident has raised questions about how the missing-persons case was handled by investigators and the city-owned, 598-bed hospital, which provides 20 percent of inpatient care in San Francisco.
“The one glaring omission is how a woman was missing for 17 days in San Francisco General Hospital,” said family spokesman David Perry. “I share in the sadness and dismay of the San Francisco General and the San Francisco sheriff’s staff. I do not doubt the sincerity of their feelings.”
He added: “This is a nightmare. Lynne Spalding died alone, in a stairwell, in one of the finest medical institutions in this country. I hear that the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department initiated a search. Well, evidently it wasn’t a very good one.”
Hospital spokeswoman Rachael Kagan said Wednesday: “Everyone wants answers, and we want answers, too. We don’t have all of the answers.”
Perry said Spalding, a native of England, had worked in the travel industry and she lived not far from the hospital with her 23-year-old daughter.
In the days before she entered the hospital, Spalding had lost weight and appeared disoriented and weak, he said.
Her daughter and boyfriend took her to the hospital to be checked out and were told she needed to be admitted for treatment of a possible urinary-tract infection, Perry said. “They were worried about her. She looked sick, and she was acting sick,” he said.
She was admitted Sept. 19, and during the two nights she spent at San Francisco General, Spalding seemed to be getting better and her condition was upgraded to fair, May said. Nurses were checking on her every 15 minutes, but she disappeared Sept. 21 in the brief time between those visits, May said.
Spalding, described as being very frail, may have been disoriented as a result of medication, friends said. Her home in a four-unit apartment building is less than a mile from the hospital.