The family of a woman who was found dead in a San Francisco General Hospital stairwell in October after going missing there 17 days earlier has filed a claim against the city, the family's attorney said today.
Lynne Spalding, 57, was admitted to the hospital for an infection on Sept. 19 and went missing two days later. She was found dead on a fourth-floor stairwell on Oct. 8.
The claim filed Tuesday on behalf of Spalding's two children by attorney Haig Harris is a precursor to a lawsuit and seeks damages from the city, which oversees San Francisco General as well as the sheriff's department, which provides security services there.
The 22-page claim states that Spalding's death was the result of "reckless neglect of her care; professional negligence by her health care providers; negligence; and, the creation and maintenance of a dangerous condition of public property."
Harris held a news conference at his office in downtown San Francisco today to discuss the claim. He said the city has 45 days to respond, and if they reject the claim, a lawsuit will follow.
The attorney said the hospital failed to keep track of Spalding, whom a doctor ordered not to be left unattended because of her mental state, and the sheriff's department failed in its responsibilities to find and rescue her.
The department has acknowledged that sheriff's deputies were asked to search the entire hospital campus for Spalding but failed to do so.
Deputies also failed to follow up on an Oct. 4 report of a person lying in a stairwell at the hospital.
"None of it makes any sense," Harris said.
Harris said the layout of the hospital also contributed to Spalding's death -- particularly that the doors to the emergency exit stairwells were not adequately equipped with alarms to notify authorities that someone had gone in there.
"Once out on the fire escape, it's a trap," he said.
Harris said Spalding's two children, a 23-year-old daughter and 19-year-old son, "are having a very difficult time. They were very close to their mom."
He said Spalding, who worked in San Francisco's travel industry, "was a spectacularly admired person."
The University of California at San Francisco Medical Center is conducting an independent review of San Francisco General's policies and procedures, and the hospital has already made changes, including daily security checks of stairwells and the installation of better alarm systems on doors.
Meanwhile, the sheriff's department has made staffing changes at the hospital, reassigning a dispatcher, two senior deputies and a sergeant away from the facility.
Harris said that while the city has acknowledged mistakes in Spalding's case, he said it's too early to determine how much money might be sought in damages on behalf of the family.
"It's easy to say 'it's our fault,' but it's entirely another thing to come to the table and compensate the family," he said.