Lynn Spalding should be alive today

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Good morning:

On September 19, 2013 Lynne Spalding’s boyfriend and daughter decided to take her to the ER at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) because she had recently lost a lot of weight and was exhibiting signs of mental disorientation. She was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and admitted to the hospital for treatment.

Two days later, she disappeared.

An engineer employed by the hospital discovered her body in a locked exterior stairwell during a routine check 17 days later. reports that the medical examiner conducted an autopsy and concluded that Spalding,

died of “probable electrolyte imbalance with delirium…clinical sepsis…while in stairwell due to complications of chronic ethanolism…clinical history.”


Dr. Thomas Shaughnessey of Sutter Health in San Francisco explained the medical examiner’s report.

“The electrolyte imbalances, in combination with a liver whose inability to compensate for them, resulted in a collapse of her heart or her brain resulting in death,” Shaughnessey said.

Her family denies that she was an alcoholic.

They hired a lawyer, Haig Harris.

The San Francisco Chronicle ( reported yesterday,

The report’s comment was “a cheap shot and a nonmedical one at that,” Haig Harris, who represents Spalding’s family, said in an interview.

“The bottom line is she didn’t have fluids for any number of days from the day she went out (from her room) until the day she died – they were trying to make it as though she was a woman who was going to die anyway,” he said. “It’s absurd. None of it makes any sense. She did not die from alcoholism.”

No one at the medical examiner’s office was available for comment Saturday.

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department has acknowledged multiple breakdowns in its efforts to find Spalding – including an admission that no one searched for her after a hospital researcher reported that he had spotted someone collapsed on her back in the stairwell on Oct. 4.

A day earlier, the Chronicle ( reported,

The stairwell was used as a fire escape, and the door accessing it was equipped with an alarm. But the door was locked from inside, meaning a person in the stairwell could not return to the halls of the hospital – though the person could exit the building on the first floor.

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, whose agency provides security at the hospital, has admitted that deputies did not consider Spalding to be a missing person in the first days after she vanished and never conducted a complete search of the building’s stairwells, including the one where her body was found.

Deputies did not act on a report made Oct. 4 about a sighting of a body in the area where Spalding was ultimately discovered, Mirkarimi said.

The Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on the death report.

Lynne Spalding was 57-years old.

Her death was not the only preventable death in our nation’s hospitals.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences published a report in 1999, titled To err is human, in which it concluded that there are “44,000 to 98,000 preventable deaths annually due to medical error in hospitals, 7,000 preventable deaths related to medication errors alone.”

There is no evidence-based reason to believe that those numbers have declined.

For more information on preventable hospital deaths in the US and world, go here.


If everyone who has not contributed a donation, were to donate $5, we could end this fund drive today.


23 Responses to Lynn Spalding should be alive today

  1. Alison McQuade says:

    I know this post is late in responding to your law blog….I was lynne’s close friend and arrived at the hospital with her boyfriend 45 minutes after she went missing – too late to lament our frustration for not having alerted her to the fact that we were coming – she may have waited but we wanted to surprise her. I received a message from her that same morning. the message showed me just how confused she was. I do hope Haig is on this and justice will be served.

    • Haven’t heard anything about the case since the story broke. Not the sort of thing one expects to happen at a hospital. Heart wrenching story.

      My condolences to you.

      Don’t know anything about Haig. Hopefully, he can secure some justice for her memory, a change in hospital procedures, and some financial compensation to her family for her wrongful death.

  2. aussie says:

    Oh no. It gets worse.

    Apparently the Oct.4 witness had WALKED PAST HER and not bothered to check if she was alive or dead. And just casually mentioned it to a stranger, clearly not wanting to get involved.

    Yet to see if THIS is a true story, as it seems this person has been found. I haven’t seen what their current story is though.

    • gblock says:

      And, according to the doctor, she was very confused and it wasn’t safe for her to be out on her own – yet he was planning to discharge her later that day?

  3. Tzar says:

    sounds like more than a few people screwed up

  4. Malisha says:

    Nobody checks and/or cleans the stairwells in that hospital on a daily basis? WTF???

  5. bettykath says:

    “Deputies did not act on a report made Oct. 4 about a sighting of a body in the area where Spalding was ultimately discovered, Mirkarimi said.”

    There’s a body reported and the police don’t investigate? Incompetence all around.

    • aussie says:

      “Homeless people often sleep there” is one excuse I read. But that doesn’t ring true if it is truly locked (one-way) fire escape stairway. How would they get in?

      Security is done by the local Sheriff’s department and they did send someone after the report, but they only checked some of the stairways. They said some people got reassigned after the body was found. A bit late.

      Fire escape stairs would not be checked or cleaned for weeks/months at a time as nobody is supposed to be using them. Of course in a place with proper security, there’s a panel that shows when a fire escape door is opened and/or left open, as it is important for FIRE safety that the doors not be open, so a fire can’t use the stairwell as a chimney through which to spread. If it is a sealed concrete stairwell. If it’s an open metal outside one the wind would sweep it clean, I imagine. But a body lying there should be more obvious from somewhere outside, too. AND EASIER TO FIND if they do a search.

  6. bettykath says:

    I guess it’s pretty obvious that I didn’t read the article for understanding. My own experience and bias regarding doctors and hospitals took over. I’ve since thought about this and now realize this is a current event and absolutely horrendous. How could they lose a patient? Why was no thorough search done? As to a misdiagnosis, my history says that that’s not an uncommon occurrence. But losing a patient? And a dead one in the hospital for several days? Absolutely fricking unbelievable.

  7. crazy1946 says:

    There are a few things about this case that I simply do not understand… How do you lose a patient? Do they not check on the patients under their care on a regular basis? I have been to several hospitals in the last year of so and they have all had security cameras in the lobby and floors, does this hospital not have any sort of security? For my final question at this time, if the door to the stair well was locked, how did she manage to enter thru the door? Some thing is totally amiss in this situation and the authorities need to investigate and find out the truth…

    • For my final question at this time, if the door to the stair well was locked, how did she manage to enter thru the door?

      She could exit into the stairwell from the 5th floor, but the door would have locked behind her preventing her from reentering.

      She could have walked down the stairs and exited at the ground level, but she did not do that. Her body was found in the stairwell outside the 4th floor exit.

      The weather on Sept 21st was: H 67, L60.

      The temperatures during the following week ranged from daily Hs in the mid 60s to mid 70s with daily Ls in the mid to high 50s.

      No sign she was assaulted.

      I believe she was wearing her street clothes when found.

    • fauxmccoy says:

      @crazy — SF general is a flipping zoo. all day, every day. i have no difficulty imagining this scenario.

      • crazy1946 says:

        fauxmccoy, Your words give me more concern as to why there is no security in place in the hospital? Were/are there no security cameras in place for protection of the patients? Too many questions about what did/did not take place… I still want to know, how do you lose a patient? Where was the nursing staff? Do they not check on the patients on a regular basis, or do they only check on them when they are admitted and discharged? Where was the family during all this? When was she first reported missing by the family?

  8. aussie says:

    She was misdiagnosed to begin with. A UTI doesn’t cause weight loss or disorientation. Hep C or hypothyroid might.

    If she disappeared on Sept 21 or 22, it would probably have been too late for her by Oct 4, when someone saw someone in the stairwell. But why did it take them 2 more days to check that out? IF it’s a locked one, isn’t the presence of someone there suspicious enough to have it checked immediately? what’s the point anyway of a locked stairwell? how did she get into it if it’s locked?

    While at the time they might assume she’d checked herself out, in a short time they’d know from the family that she had not, so why not a proper search?

    • @Aussie:

      As someone who was an RN for many years and now I am a Nurse Practitioner here in NYC. To even read this story is disheartening to me. She certainly was misdiagnosed. A UTI does not result in weigh loss!

      Why doesn’t secuity check the stairwells every shft?? Why wasn’t this woman checked on the ward by the staff?? As a Nurse Manager, I check with every nurse on my floor and we discuss each pt. at lenght and we discuss their progress and where they are if they are not in their room. Are they in the day room? Have they been discharged? Are they downstairs getting tests performed? I do not understand this at all. Where was her Doctor? DIdn’t hje inquire of her whereabouts, after all she was his pt.? There are to many unanswered questions here! The security in this hospital was definitely lacking! How do you lose a pt. in the hospital and not even notice she is not in her bed?? Most of the county or city hospitals are not very good to begin with and the ones here in NYC. Pts. arer waiting for hours before they are even seen and you can walk out of the E.R without being noticed! SMH. This is such a tragedy for this family and I feel so bad for them. There loved ones went to the hospital to get help, and look what happeed to her.

      • I also forgot to mention that she was exhibiting signs of mental deterioration or is it disorientation? Why wasn’t she admitted to the psych ward where she would have been locked in and not able to wander away? Obviously, she was wandering and wandered into a locked stairway where she couldn’t access to the wards because the doors in the stairways are locked which makes no sense, and since security does not check the stairways, they wre unaware that a pt. was there! This is disgusting to me! She died all along in a hospital and she didn’t have to die! Sorry for the mistakes in my previous post. I was just to angry and my computer froze! This is truly sad to me.

      • fauxmccoy says:


        i was sitting with my 76 year old mom (this is her first quarter of NOT having her RN license since 1958) watching this story while caring for her while her broken pelvis and ribs heal. there is no way that diagnosis is complete. i cannot even imagine being admitted for a UTI, kidney infection – yes. something stinks all around with hospital records and autopsy report.

        your description of county hospitals in NY describes SF General perfectly — the sick and dying stay on gurneys in the halls for hours before being seen. no one goes there unless driven by poverty. this is the medical care we give our poor. i doubt this woman had a private doc, but the hospital should have assigned one to her upon admission.

        • aussie says:

          OK, I can see them saying, she has a UTI let’s start treating that WHILE we find out what else is wrong. Apparently they did do some blood tests which did show some liver problems, and that is probably where they’re getting the alcoholism from. However, poor liver function does not prove alcoholism. It would have taken further investigations to find out exactly what liver trouble she had. But then of course she disappeared…

          It is not impossible for someone to be a secret alcoholic and the family not know, especially if they are adult children not living with her, as was the case. But it all seems such a convenient excuse. “She was just a drunk so it doesn’t matter we didn’t bother looking for her”. Not good enough.

  9. fauxmccoy says:

    SF general (the county hospital for city and county of SF) is nothing short of a hell hole. i would not wish it upon anybody.

    this case has been widely publicized where i live. as the hospital is owned/operated by the county and the coroner is employed by the county, i am more than a bit skeptical of their findings.

    what i absolutely fail to understand is how a body remained undetected in a stairwell for over two weeks. imagine that smell! (not that SF general smells much better inside.) i hope ms. spaulding’s family can find peace.

    • William Walton says:

      Faux, you should have had a Dad who was a Physician. If I go to the ER or a new physician and they try to tell me what is wrong, I will tell them that Dad would listen to me as to what the symptoms are. Dad would tell interns, nurses, and residents to learn to talk to the patient since they will examine them for a very short time and the patient lives in that body 24/7 for 365 days per year. Therefore, they know how they feel and the symptoms they are experiencing. When I had the surgery for a subdural hematoma, I was in a coma for about 6 weeks. They were going to pull the plug but the Chief of Neuology held that off for a week. I came out of the coma the day before the plug pulling. Was mumbling and talking quite well. Daughter was talking to me and told her I went visisting and saw Mom and Dad. Told her Dad wanted a copy of the surgical report, wanted to make sure the surgeon checked the subarchnoid artery. cerebral artery/vein, and the circle of Willis. My comments floored the neurosurgeon and he told eldest sons mother that if son wanted to wait, he wouid have his nurse make a copy of the initial surgery report and he could take to his Grandfater, or he could leave his Grandfathers address and he would mail it to him. Son’s mother smiled and the Dr said I guess I missed something. Her answer was yes W was born 1973 and Bill’s Dad died in 1960 so W never knew his GrandDad. Would kid the Dr. that the next time he was perfoming brain surgery just think of feeling a cold finger on your shoulder telling you E, move over a bit to the right you are fixing to knick an artery. The Dr. stated do not even go there as I still have the Willies from your comments coming out of the coma. Asked if Dad was a neurologist so told him no, he practiced General Medicine, General Surgery, and took a Post Doc in Trauma Surgery so practiced that also. The Dr. then stated that he would have been well versed in human anatomy and various surgeries. Faux thought you might find this interesting. I agree with you that the smell of a decomposing body should have alerted someone to investigage. However, it would depend on the time of death and wheter the body was dehydrated. Just an opinion

  10. bettykath says:

    My health improved when I lost my medical insurance – the doctors weren’t interfering! Several prescriptions that were supposed to address “the problem” but were way off base. I had one doctor prescribe medication based on a report from someone not qualified to make a diagnosis. This was without any kind of direct interaction with me. Several missed diagnoses, including one that accidentally fixed the problem. It took awhile and a course in nutrition to realize that I’m really better off on my own.

  11. voiceofreason says:

    it’s my experience that book learned “doctors” can’t find their a$$ with both hands

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