SF to pay $1.2M over death of missing woman found in hospital stairway

San Francisco has agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit from the family of a 75-year-old woman who...

San Francisco has agreed to pay $1.2 million to settle a lawsuit from the family of a 75-year-old woman who was found dead in the stairwell of an engineering building at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital.

Ruby Lee Andersen was living at a residential care facility on the hospital campus in May 2018 when she left to run an errand and did not return. A worker discovered her body 11 days later in a nearby building.

Her family alleged in a June 2019 lawsuit that the city-run facility failed to care properly for Andersen. She was allowed to sign herself out to buy a battery at a nearby drug store despite displaying signs of dementia.

Andersen then found her way into the stairwell through multiple unlocked doors until one locked behind her, according to the lawsuit. While the last door should have triggered an alarm, there was no evidence of it sounding.

In August 2018, state officials cited the Behavioral Health Center’s Residential Care Facility for the Elderly at 887 Potrero Ave. for failing to provide Andersen with “appropriate care and supervision.”

Her family reached the settlement with the City Attorney’s Office last November, court records show. The proposal was introduced to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday for a vote at a later date.

This is the second time San Francisco has reached a costly settlement with the family of a person found dead in a stairwell at the hospital. Officials agreed to pay nearly $3 million over the 2013 death of patient Lynne Spalding.

Attorney Haig Harris represented the families in both cases. He could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

City Attorney’s Office spokesperson John Cote called Andersen’s death “tragic.”

“Our hearts go out to her family,” Cote said. “We feel this proposed settlement is an appropriate resolution given all of the circumstances.”

Her death also exposed deficiencies in the hospital’s security plans.

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, which is in charge of hospital security, made attempts to find Andersen at the time, but was not required to conduct a campus-wide search for her because she was not a hospital patient.

Neither the department nor a spokesperson for the hospital with the Department of Public Health could confirm Thursday whether those security protocols have since been updated.

DPH spokesperson Brent Andrew declined to comment on the case.

But Nancy Crowley, a spokesperson for the sheriff, said the department had “strong” communication with the hospital.

“Our security team meets every week with SF General security staff to flag any issues which could include a missing persons search,” Crowley said. “We are working with them.”

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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