A spokesman for the family of a San Francisco woman whose body was found in the stairwell of a hospital where she was a patient says investigators have ruled out foul play in her disappearance and death.
The spokesman, David Perry, told reporters Thursday that while the coroner has not yet established a cause or time of death for 57-year-old Lynne Spalding, investigators do not think she was victim of an attack.
Spalding's body was found Tuesday in the stairwell of a fire exit at San Francisco General Hospital. She was admitted to the city-owned hospital with an infection on Sept. 19 and reported missing from her room two days later.
Meanwhile, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced Tuesday that he is hiring an independent consultant to investigate the hospital's security and search protocols.
He held a news conference at the hospital, saying the city is responsible for what happened. He said he took the walk Spalding would have had to make to get to the stairwell where her body was found. He said the door, which Spalding would have used, sounded an alarm when he opened it today.
The exterior stairwell is actually a fire escape.
"This should not have happened. We want to prevent it from ever happening again," Lee said.
He said he called Spalding's daughter to apologize for her mother's death. Lee told reporters the word lawsuit was never mentioned during the conversation.
Spalding's family is also demanding answers from authorities and medical officials, who said they, too, were horrified at what happened to her.
"We need to know what Lynne's condition was. We need to know what she was being treated for and frankly we need to know what medications she was on and what state of mind she was in,'' Perry said Wednesday. "We're not trying to place blame. We're trying to find answers. And anyone if found in the stairwell of a hospital, it's disturbing.''
The medical examiner's office confirmed on Thursday that the body was Spalding.
San Francisco General Hospital Chief Operating Officer Roland Pickens told the San Francisco Chronicle the stairwell was several hundred feet from the unit where Spalding was being treated. Another hospital official, chief nursing officer Terry Dentoni, told the newspaper the woman was being treated in a medical-surgical unit, which is for patients who require less attention. It's unclear where her room was in the unit.
"What happened at our hospital is horrible,'' San Francisco General Hospital Chief Medical Officer Todd May said at a Wednesday news conference. "We are here to take care of patients, to heal them, to keep them safe. This has shaken us to our core. Our staff is devastated.''
The Sheriff's Department doesn't know how long Spalding was in the stairwell, which is part of a rarely used fire exit with an alarm on it, Assistant Sheriff Paul Miyamoto said.
"All of us are committed to learning what happened and ensuring it never happens again,'' he said. Spalding was taken to the hospital because she had lost weight and appeared disoriented and weak, and her family and friends were concerned about her physical state.
She was admitted for a bladder or urinary tract infection on Sept. 19 and was reported missing from her room two days later. Spalding's relatives and friends spent days "scouring the streets of San Francisco with fliers because we were under the assumption that San Francisco General had been searched and Lynne was not here,'' Perry said at a news conference at the hospital.
"I hear that the San Francisco Sheriff's Department initiated a search. Well, evidently it wasn't a very good one. I think there are a lot of questions to be asked.'' Perry said Spalding had worked in the travel industry and lived in the city's Mission District with her 23-year-old daughter. 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, and she disappeared in the brief time between those visits, May said. Spalding's family filed a missing person's report with police, who have been investigating her disappearance. The Sheriff's Department, which provides security at the city-owned hospital, is conducting an internal investigation of its security measures.