Hospital Can’t Explain How Patient Who Died in Stairwell Went Undetected for 17 Days

Monday, October 14, 2013
Lynne Spalding

A lot of people die in hospitals, but not usually in stairwells where they remain undetected for weeks.

San Francisco hospital officials are scratching their heads after a woman who disappeared at the city’s busiest hospital after seeking treatment for a bladder infection turned up dead in a little-used stairwell there 17 days later.

Dr. Todd May, San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center’s chief medical officer, told the San Francisco Chronicle that Lynne Spalding, 57, may have been the victim of too many safety measures. “We have alarm overload in medicine,” he said. “We have alarms of various types that are intended to be safety measures, but it can be a cacophony of chirps and beeps and you can become desensitized to that. . . . There is literature about this phenomenon.”

That’s one theory, but more are certain to be floated in the comings days. San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said Friday, “I’m not into pointing fingers at this time . . . but I will say this: The city is responsible.” Spalding family spokesman David Perry told ABC, “One would think there would be cameras or something.”

Spalding was the subject of an intensive search inside and outside the hospital after she disappeared in mid-September, but the stairwell where she was found is rarely used for anything except as a fire escape and was apparently overlooked. Preliminary speculation is that she wandered away from her fifth floor room in a haze from medication and couldn’t get back through the self-locked, alarm-equipped door.

The British national, a mother of two who worked in the tourism industry, checked into the hospital two days before her disappearance.

Spalding was discovered last week during a routine quarterly check of hospital safety corridors. It hadn’t been checked since July. The Sheriff’s Department, the hospital, UCSF Medical Center (which partners with the hospital), San Francisco police and state health officials have all begun investigations. The San Francisco Medical Examiner’s Office has already ruled out foul play.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

New Measures at S.F. General after Patient Death (by Vivian Ho, San Francisco Chronicle)

Mayor: City Will Investigate SF General Hospital Security after Patient Found Dead in Stairwell (by Jonah Owen Lamb, San Francisco Examiner)

Body Found in San Francisco General Hospital May be that of Missing Patient (by Erin Ivie, San Jose Mercury News)

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