A BRITISH woman found dead in a hospital stairwell in San Francisco may have lain there for 17 days without being noticed.
Relatives of Lynne Spalding are outraged because a massive search by staff and police failed to find her body which lay on the fire escape behind a door that was fitted with an alarm.
They claim that Miss Spalding, 57, could still have been alive if she was found sooner and have said that “gross negligence” was to blame.
David Perry, a spokesman for her family said: “This is a nightmare. Lynne Spalding died alone, in a stairwell, in one of the finest medical institutions in this country.
“I hear that the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department initiated a search. Well, evidently it wasn’t a very good one.”
Miss Spalding who has a son, 19, and a daughter, 23, whom she lived with in San Francisco, had been working in the hospitality industry but recently lost her job.
She was originally from Peterlee, County Durham, and moved to America 23 years ago. She was thin and frail when she was admitted to the San Francisco General Hospital on 19 September for treatment of a urinary tract infection.
She was last seen in her hospital bed on the morning of 21 September at 10:15, said Dr Todd May, the hospital’s chief medical officer. A nurse who came to check on her 15 minutes later found the bed empty and the standard missing patient procedure was put into effect.
The hospital declined to explain what that actually involved.
Meanwhile Miss Spalding’s friends and family began to hunt for her. They printed off 600 flyers and distributed them in the area, scoured the streets and started a Facebook page called “Find Lynne” on which they put dozens of posts.
The San Francisco sheriff’s department claimed to have carried out a thorough search of the hospital too.
It was only when a member of the building’s engineering staff did a routine quarterly check of the stairwell at 10am on Tuesday, 8 October, that she was discovered.
The body was just a few hundred feet away from the unit where she was being cared for.
According to US reports, Miss Spalding may have been disorientated and left her mobile phone in her room, though she did have her purse with her.
During an emotional press conference, Mr Perry said: “Wherever the facts lead us, we need to know what Lynne’s condition was … and we need to know what kind of medication she was on”.
Jennie Rauh, one of her friends, challenged doctors and police who addressed the crowd and said: “What is the next step you’re going to do to make sure that this doesn’t happen to anyone else?
“Lynne would still be alive today if somebody checked the stairwells.”
Dr May said that staff were stunned as “we are here to take care of patients”.
He said: “We are shaken to our core. What happened at the hospital is horrible. Our staff is devastated.
“We have no idea how this happened.”
The Foreign Office has said it is aware of the death of a British national and that it is providing consular assistance to the family.