Lynne Spalding: Sheriff Tries to Explain How Deputies Overlooked Missing Patient

Lynne Spalding
Confusion reigned Wednesday afternoon as Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi tried -- and failed -- to explain exactly what happened to Lynne Spalding Ford, the 57-year-old patient whose body was found in a San Francisco General Hospital stairwell weeks after she disappeared from her hospital bed.

Mirkarimi acknowledged that all the hospital stairwells hadn't been searched despite several requests by staff that authorities comb the entire 24-acre campus in search of the missing patient. Moreover, he said, deputies were given conflicting information about Spalding's race, which added to the confusion; some said she was African American and others reported that she was Asian. Spalding is Caucasian.

Mirkarimi stood before a throng of reporters at City Hall this afternoon where he said he was still unable to account for Ford's last days, nor was he clear on how she ended up in the stairwell undetected for nearly three weeks. A cause of death has not yet been determined.

The attorney for Ford's family, Haig Harris, was also at the press conference, and called the system broken, saying the hospital should have known much sooner that one of its patients was missing. He pointed out that hospital staff had deactivated Ford's bed alarm because she kept getting up.

"To say she wasn't at risk in one sentence and then to say that she was confused and shouldn't be by herself in another sentence is just to me incredible indifference," Harris said. "This puts the entire public at risk if this is what happens when you go to the hospital in San Francisco."

Coburn Palmer
Haig Harris, Spalding's family attorney, talks to reporters
Spalding checked into SFGH on Sept. 19 to be treated for a bladder infection following surgery and was last seen in her hospital room on Sept. 21. On Oct. 8, an engineer performing a routine maintenance check found her body in a rarely used hospital stairwell.

Although Mirkarimi couldn't pinpoint where the breakdown happened, he expressed his condolences to Spalding's family; he also used the press conference as a chance to announce new security measures aimed to prevent something like this from happening again.

The new policies mandate daily patrols of the stairwells along with an added security post and a review of the hospital's antiquated camera equipment.

"What happened to Miss Spalding shouldn't have happened to anyone," Mirkarimi said.

Here's a timeline of events:

Sept 21

10:25 a.m.

SF General called the Institutional Patrol Unit and notified them that a patient had been missing for 40 minutes. Hospital staff described her as a 57-year-old African American woman standing 5'2'' weighing 116 pounds and wearing a hospital gown.

An alert was issued for the missing patient.

Ford's doctor called IPU saying that before he could discharge his confused patient from the hospital she wandered off.

Deputies told Ford's daughter that her mom was last seen in hospital clothes.

Ford's doctor told deputies that she hadn't been able to examine Ford that morning and if she had, she might not have released Ford.

IPU officers then described Ford as an Asian female in their log book.

Sept 25

Hospital video was pulled to investigate if they could see Ford walking off.

Sept. 26

A missing person flyer from the San Francisco Police Department dated Sept. 21 was distributed. There were technical difficulties and authorities could not review the hospital's surveillance video provided to them.

Sept. 30

San Francisco General Hospital staff requested a search of the 24-acre campus. The search did not include stairwells.

Oct. 1

Another search was done, this time it included half the hospitals stairwells

Oct. 3

The previous video problems were finally resolved.

Oct. 4

Staff from SFGH called IPU saying someone had told them they found a person laying on the landing between the third and fourth floor of stairwell no. 8.

Police confirm the body found is Spalding's.

My Voice Nation Help

Thanks to our colleagues at SF Weekly for their ongoing coverage of this horrific case. There is however, an inaccuracy with the timeline above which - if possible -- we would like to correct: Lynne Spalding's body was not found until October 8.

I'd also add to the timeline these following, cogent, events:

Thursday, September 26: Lynne's family and friends are so disturbed by the lack of attention and indifference from SF General and the Sheriff's Department that they ask local a local PR firm (mine) to help get the word out that Lynne Spalding is missing. The firm agrees, and does so pro bono.

Friday, September 27: I release a statement -- whose wording was approved by SF General Staff -- about Lynne's disappearance. The release is instantly picked up generating a torrent of media coverage.

Monday, September 30: The SF General press office issues its first statement on Lynne's disappearance -- a full 10 days after she went missing. That was the only direct communication from SF General to Lynne's family and friends between the time she went missing and the day her body was discovered.

Tuesday, October 8: I receive a call from a reporter saying that an anonymous source reported that Lynne's body had been found. That afternoon, SF General reports a body was found, but won't confirm that it is Lynne Spalding.

Wednesday, October 9: SF General holds a press conference -- but refuses to take questions from the press -- confirming that the body is Lynne Spalding.

Paul Bibo
Paul Bibo

Wasted effort. Lazy on a called in incident. $$$ - and lame in excuse-


WTF race has todo with it??! Im sure if she was white they would have found her!

Guadalupe M Pankratz
Guadalupe M Pankratz

how long dead? from what? anything unusual upon medical examen? cell phone calls? clothing? empty stomach? her things from the hospital retrieved by whom? who works in that area of the hospital?

Mike Komar
Mike Komar

wish more papers would write investigative and accountability pieces like this

Ana Kirola
Ana Kirola

This is getting sadder by the minute.

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