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Wrongful-death claim filed over body found in hospital stairwell

SAN FRANCISCO — The family of a hospital patient found dead in an emergency stairwell 17 days after she vanished from her room has filed a wrongful death claim against San Francisco, which owns and operates the medical facility.

The claim, a precursor to a lawsuit when a governmental body is named as a defendant, was filed by the son and daughter of Lynne Spalding, 57, who entered San Francisco General Hospital on Sept. 19 and was found dead in a hospital emergency stairwell on Oct. 8.

The claim describes a calamitous array of errors by the hospital and the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, which provides security for San Francisco General.

Filed on behalf of Spalding's two adult children, the claim said Spalding was diagnosed with a bladder infection, a blood infection and episodic confusion when she was admitted to the hospital.

On Sept. 20, the day before she disappeared, Spalding thought she was working in an airport and lacked awareness of her true surroundings, a nurse had reported, according to the claim.

A doctor ordered that Spalding be constantly monitored because her confusion made her vulnerable. The claim said the order was not followed.

The claim also said the Sheriff's Department failed to conduct an immediate and thorough search for Spalding after she disappeared.

"Hospital did not have a coordinated or systematic plan on how to search for any missing patients," the claim said.

On the day Spalding disappeared, a nurse misinformed the Sheriff's Department that Spalding was African American and was wearing a hospital gown. Spalding was Caucasian and had changed into her street clothes before leaving her room.

A man discovered a woman lying on the stairwell on Oct. 4 and reported it to a nurse. The nurse called the sheriff, but deputies failed to conduct a search, according to the claim. Spalding's body was discovered four days later by a member of the hospital's engineering staff.

The claim alleges San Francisco violated an elder abuse law intended to protect adults admitted to hospitals, reckless neglect, breach of duty, medical neglect and maintaining a dangerous property, and asks for damages for pain and suffering, loss of affection and attorneys fee and legal costs.

The claim did not specify the amount of compensation Spalding's children are seeking.

San Francisco's medical examiner determined that Spalding died from dehydration and complications from alcoholism.

Since Spalding's disappearance and death, San Francisco General has revamped security and instituted new procedures to try to prevent another patient from meeting Spalding's fate.

maura.dolan@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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