Coroner ties alcoholism to SF General Hospital stairway death

A woman found dead in a locked stairwell 17 days after going missing from her room at San Francisco General Hospital probably died of a chemical imbalance due to complications from chronic alcohol abuse, the city medical examiner's office said Friday.

San Francisco Assistant Medical Examiner Ellen Moffat said in a new report that 57-year-old Lynne Spalding had been dead for days before she was found on Oct. 8.

The medical examiner's office says Spalding was confused and delirious on Sept. 21, the day she disappeared.

Moffat notes Spalding didn't know the day or time or even why she was in the hospital.

Several employees with the city sheriff's department, which provides hospital security, were reassigned after Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi acknowledged that a thorough search was never conducted for Spalding.

Although sheriff's deputies at the hospital did a “perimeter search” of San Francisco General's 24-acre campus within an hour of Spalding's disappearance, it was not until Sept. 30 that they attempted a more extensive search of the grounds, Mirkarimi said.

A request for a broader search came at a meeting a sheriff's supervisor had with hospital staff members who included representatives of the “risk management” department, he said.

The next day, after it became clear that not all the stairwells used as fire exits had been searched, a supervisor ordered the stairwell searches to continue, yet “only about half the stairwells” ever were, he said.

Then, on Oct. 4, a hospital staff member told the sheriff's department that someone had reported seeing a body in a locked stairwell of the building where Spalding had been a patient. A sheriff's dispatcher told hospital officials the department would respond, but “there is no indication that any one was dispatched to that stairwell.”

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