SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – The family of a woman found dead in a San Francisco General Hospital stairwell last October has filed a claim against the city for her death.

The 22-page claim states that  57-year-old Lynne Spalding’s death was the result of  “reckless neglect of her care; professional negligence by her health care providers; negligence; and, the creation and maintenance of a dangerous condition of public property.”

“Lynne did not die as a result of a doctor making a mistake, read the x-ray backward or took off the wrong leg” said attorney Haig Harris at a midday news conference in San Francisco.  “This is elder abuse and the adult dependency statute says you have got to provide a safe environment in this kind of a hospital, so that the patients that come here to be treated are safe and secure.  That’s the failure here.”

City Attorney Dennis Herrera has 45 days to accept or reject the family’s claim, which is seen as a precursor to a lawsuit. Assuming it is rejected, the family will sue San Francisco for unspecified damages.

Spalding had been admitted to the hospital on September 19 to be treated for a bladder infection. She disappeared from her hospital room two days later, and staff had noted she appeared to be weak and disoriented.

The search effort by the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, which provides security at the hospital, was filled with errors and missteps. Deputies misidentified Spalding’s race and attempts to retrieve surveillance video from the facility proved fruitless, due to faulty hardware.

There was confusion on whether all of the hospital’s stairwells had been searched. And in early October, when a hospital researcher reported seeing a woman lying in a stairwell, staff from the sheriff’s communications center said they would “take care of it,” but failed to search that area.

Spalding’s body was finally found on October 8, and an autopsy showed she had been dead for several days.

It was determined she had died of “probable electrolyte imbalance with delirium” due to “complications of chronic ethanolism.”

State investigators concluded both the hospital and Sheriff’s Department shared blame for Spalding’s death.

The University of California at San Francisco Medical Center is conducting an independent review of San Francisco General’s policies and procedures, and the hospital has already made changes, including daily security checks of stairwells and the installation of better alarm systems on doors.

Meanwhile, the sheriff’s department has made staffing changes at the hospital, reassigning a dispatcher, two senior deputies and a sergeant away from the facility.

Harris said that while the city has acknowledged mistakes in Spalding’s case, he said it’s too early to determine how much money might be sought in damages on behalf of the family.

“It’s easy to say ‘it’s our fault,’ but it’s entirely another thing to come to the table and compensate the family,” he said.

TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Bay City News Service contributed to this report.


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