Five weeks ago today, a patient disappeared from San Francisco General Hospital, but her body was not found for 17 days. Now, there are new questions about Lynne Spalding's disappearance. NBC Bay Area's Chase Cain reports from San Francisco.
Officials at San Francisco General Hospital made four requests for sheriff's deputies to search the medical center for a missing patient later found dead in a stairwell, an attorney hired by the patient's family said.
Sheriff's officials have not told hospital authorities whether the searches were conducted, attorney Haig Harris told the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday.
"One or two is bad enough,'' said Harris, who represents the family of Lynne Spalding. "They certainly did not conduct a thorough search.''
Spalding, 57, was admitted to the hospital for treatment of a bladder infection on Sept. 19. She disappeared two days later. On Oct. 8, her body was found in a locked hospital stairwell.
Susan Fahey, spokeswoman for the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, would not comment on whether the deputies who provide security at the hospital had searched for the missing woman. The cause of death is unclear.
Investigators believe she had been dead for several days when her body was discovered. Harris told the newspaper he had been briefed on Thursday by the hospital's chief of medicine, Dr. Jeff Critchfield.
Hospital officials confirmed that the conversation took place but declined to say what was said, citing concerns for the family's privacy. On the day Spalding disappeared, all that was left behind were her cellphone and charger, Harris said.
The family speculated that medication might have disoriented her, but the doctor said she was taking nothing that could have caused such a reaction. The first two requests for searches came on the day she disappeared, Harris said.
The hospital issued a third request on Sept. 30 for a search of the buildings and grounds. On Oct. 4, a senior staff member heard banging and opened the door of the stairwell where Spalding's body eventually was found.
A man wearing a hospital name tag walked out and said he saw a person between the third and fourth floors.
That staff member notified the sheriff again, Harris said. It's unclear who the man in the stairwell was, and hospital spokeswoman Rachel Kagan said the staff member did not remember having seen him previously.
Critchfield told the attorney there's no proof that even if someone was in the stairwell that day that it was Spalding. Sometimes homeless people find their way inside the locked doors, he said.