A red, double-decker bus tooled through the streets of London last week.
But unlike other such busses, which are a normal site in the British capital, this wasn't for public use. Instead, it transported about 30 protesters waving signs with the face of a woman who was found dead at a San Francisco hospital a year ago.
Lynne Spalding, who was admitted to San Francisco General Hospital Sept. 19, 2013, for treatment of an infection and went missing two days later, was found dead in an emergency stairwell after 17 days.
Spalding's twin brother, Bill, was on the bus as part of a rally to protest what they say is the ineffective way the British government and officials in San Francisco dealt with the incident. The bus was full of family members of British people who died abroad but got little aid from their government, Bill Spalding said.
As a British citizen, his sister deserved action and concern from the consulate in San Francisco, but instead, the agency did little, he said.
“I think that carries on particularly when someone dies in those circumstances,” he said of the consulate's responsibilities after his sister's mysterious death.
When he inquired with the Foreign Office about his sister's death, he said he was given minimal information and has received little help from them since.
Days after his sister was found, Spalding flew to San Francisco with his wife for the memorial. While he had already contacted the Foreign Office to no avail, he contacted the British Consulate upon arriving to find out specifically what happened. When he sought the office's aid to visit the hospital, he claims he was brushed off by consulate staff. Later, he discovered they apparently thought he was a journalist.
Still, what he wanted more than anything was to visit the stairwell where his sister had spent her last days.
“My main purpose for getting to The City was to be where my sister had been for 17 days,” he said. After showing up at the hospital in late October last year, he was finally taken to the stairwell where she died. There, he said a few words and made his peace.
“I went to the spot where she'd been. It was a blessed relief to go there,” he said, explaining he became convinced she died quickly and without much suffering.
But Bill Spalding's anger does not end with his own government's action. He also criticized the way San Francisco officials — and especially hospital workers — dealt with the incident.
“Those people should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves, 'cause they'll do that to anyone in San Francisco,” Spalding said about how security and nursing staff failed in their duties. “It's not about my sister, but it's about the people of San Francisco.”
As for Spalding's family in San Francisco — she has two children — they have sued The City regarding the incident. Their lawyer did not return several calls for comment on Bill Spalding's protests, nor did the British consulate.
Since Spalding's death, the hospital has increased security measures and beefed up its protocol for dealing with missing patients.
A statement issued late Tuesday by health department Director Barbara Garcia said that “Lynne Spalding Ford’s death was a tragedy that never should have happened. Our hearts go out to her family and friends.
“Following that terrible event, the Department of Public Health (DPH) leadership has worked closely with the San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) leaders and staff and San Francisco Sheriff’s Department (SFSD) to implement changes to improve the safety and security of our patients, staff and visitors.
“Together we have taken significant steps and can assure everyone in San Francisco that we are a safer and more secure hospital now than we were one year ago.”
A federal investigation into the incident found fault with almost everyone involved, from security staff to medical staff.