Mystery surrounds circumstances of missing woman’s body found at San Francisco General Hospital

Cases of patients walking away from hospital beds unannounced are not new at San Francisco General Hospital.

But how, 17 days after a search of hospital grounds, the body of Lynne Spalding ended up in a stairwell not far from the fifth-floor room she disappeared from remains a mystery.

The Wednesday morning announcement that the body discovered by a San Francisco General engineer Tuesday was indeed Spalding, 57, has raised a series of questions about how the hospital handles missing patients, monitors emergency exits and uses security cameras.

“Everyone wants answers, and we want answers too,” said David Perry, soon after Spalding’s 23-year-old daughter was notified by the hospital that the body was believed to be her mother. “We don’t know what happened,” added the friend of Spalding’s who’s acting as a family spokesman.

Besides that announcement, few answers about the incident were forthcoming from hospital staff or Sheriff’s Department officials, both of whom refused to answer questions Wednesday.

How Spalding ended up in the stairwell — along with the cause, time and manner of her death — remains unknown, according to law enforcement officials. The investigation is ongoing and the Medical Examiner’s Office has yet to officially identify the body.

But hospital officials did voice their shock and dismay Wednesday.

“What happened at our hospital is horrible,” Todd May, chief medical officer, said in a statement, adding that “nothing like this has ever happened before.”

But hospital spokeswoman Rachael Kagan told The San Francisco Examiner on Tuesday that “it’s not unusual” for a patient to leave unannounced. Patients, she added, are allowed to depart whenever they want. Kagan did not say how often, or for how long, patients had gone missing in the past.

While Kagan said there was a thorough search of the campus, she would not say if the hospital has security cameras near where Spalding was last seen.

On Wednesday, The San Francisco Examiner found no visible cameras near the emergency exits of the stairwell where the body was found.

While the news conference made no mention of whether any emergency exit alarms were sounded the day Spalding went missing, the exit doors on the third, fourth and fifth floors leading to where the body was found had signs saying an alarm would sound if opened.

Staff on the fourth floor said Wednesday that the doors leading to that particular stairwell will set off an alarm when opened and can only be turned off by a sheriff’s deputy using a key. Jenny Rauh, a friend of the victim who participated in searching for Spalding, said she is beyond outraged at the news that Spalding was found in the stairwell.

“She was right here,” Rauh said. “They found her here in the hospital where it’s safe.”

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