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Family seeks answers in missing patient's death

  • San Francisco hospital patient's body found in stairwell 17 days after disappearance
  • Authorities still investigating how Lynne Spalding died and how her body ended up in stairwell
  • Spokesman: Family not planning lawsuit, but 'nothing is being ruled out'
The mystery of how 57-year-old Lynne Spalding ended up dead in a hospital stairwell and nobody found her for 17 days is now at the center of a massive investigation.

She’s admitted to San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center for a bladder infection then mysteriously disappears. Lynne Spalding’s family and friends cannot find her and neither can anyone at the hospital.

Spalding is not in her room and is nowhere to be found. Until an engineer doing a quarterly maintenance check finds her body in a stairwell.

The mystery of how 57-year-old Lynne Spalding, also known as Lynne Ford, ends up dead in an outside stairwell and nobody finds her for 17 days is now at the center of a massive investigation.

Timeline of the day Spalding disappears

The mother of two checks herself into San Francisco General Hospital on September 19. Within two days her condition seems to be improving.

September 21 is the last time Spalding is seen in her hospital room when a nurse checks on her at 10:15 a.m. But just 15 minutes later when the same nurse comes back to Spalding’s room, she’s gone.

The nurse initiates a search of the hospital, according to a joint statement from the hospital and San Francisco Sheriff’s Department.

At 10:45 a.m. Spalding’s boyfriend and two friends come to the hospital for a visit. That’s when they receive the bad news: Spalding has been missing for 30 minutes.

The San Francisco Police Department is notified and begins a missing person investigation.

Family and friends launch their own search throughout San Francisco, including searching alleys and shelters, in case Spalding, who’s heavily medicated, is wandering around alone. They start a Facebook campaign, “Find Lynne,” hoping for answers.

Hospital engineer randomly finds missing patient 17 days later

For two weeks, there is not a single sighting of Lynne Spalding.

Then on the morning of October 8, a member of the hospital’s engineering staff conducting a routine quarterly check finds her body in an exterior stairwell, also a fire exit. 

How did Spalding end up in the stairwell, how did she die, how did nobody see anything and was any of it caught on surveillance video? These questions are all part of the investigation.

According to the joint statement by the hospital and the sheriff’s department, “We do not know how she came to be in the stairwell yesterday, how long she had been there, or what caused her death. The exterior stairwell is a fire exit that is not routinely used by staff, patients or the public. It is alarmed and locks from the outside; it exits to the hospital grounds at the bottom.”

Grieving family & friends want answers

Spalding’s family is outraged and wants answers. So do many of those who posted messages on the “Find Lynne” Facebook page. Some posts, confused and angry, call this a senseless tragedy.

David Perry, a spokesman for the Spalding family, says they are disappointed in how the hospital handled Spalding’s disappearance.

“I respectively disagree with San Francisco General public relations staff that they have been proactively contacting family and friends,” he said. “San Francisco General did not release a statement about the disappearance of Lynn Spalding until 10 days after her disappearance.

“That’s 10 days after dozens of family and friends were scouring the streets of San Francisco with flyers because we were under the assumption that San Francisco General had been searched and Lynne was not here. “

At a news conference, the hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. Todd May, said, “What happened at our hospital is horrible. 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. We don’t know what happened to this woman.”

San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee announced a full investigation by the city, to include an independent review of hospital security, policies and procedures, specifically, checking the city’s hospital surveillance systems and hospital staff training. “This should not have happened, and we all agree, and we want to prevent it from happening again.” Lee also said, “The city is responsible for what happened here. We need to go the extra mile for Lynne Spalding Ford’s family and for all our current and future patients and families.”

The review is set to begin this week. The California Department of Public Health is also investigating.  

“We continue to cooperate with the ongoing investigation to learn what happened to Lynne Ford Spalding and we are doing everything we can to ensure the safety and security of our patients”, the hospital said in a statement released October 12. 

Hospital officials have already taken steps to improve security, including a new policy of daily fire stairwell checks and updating fire stairwell alarms.

At this point, Spalding’s two children have not been able to finalize funeral plans. They are waiting on the cause of death and for Spalding’s remains to be released.

Family spokesperson David Perry says, “it’s been a week since Lynne Spalding’s body was found…family and friends are beyond distraught and beyond patience with the delay. We need an answer, we need a cause of death, we need her remains so we can plan a funeral in her honor.”

Calls to the medical examiner’s office have not been returned.  

But will a lawsuit be next? “There are no plans for that as of yet. Nothing is being ruled out,” Perry says. 

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