Lawyer: San Francisco hospital staffer saw body in stairwell days earlier

CNN
Friday, October 25, 2013 - 8:57am

A worker at San Francisco General Hospital alerted a supervisor about a body in a stairwell four full days before the facility announced that a long-missing patient's body had been found in the same locale, a lawyer for the patient's family said Thursday.

Haig Harris, an attorney representing the children of the late Lynne Spalding, said an official at San Francisco General called him on Thursday to tell him about the October 4 incident. The 57-year-old Spalding was admitted to the hospital September 19. She was reported missing two days later. On October 8, the body found in an exterior stairwell in the building was identified as Spalding.

Hospital spokeswoman Rachael Kagan confirmed that Dr. Jeffrey Critchfield, chief of the Division of Hospital Medicine, called Harris on Thursday, though Kagan did not elaborate on their conversation.

Harris said Critchfield told him that around 7:20 a.m. on October 4, a senior female staff member on the hospital's fifth floor heard banging coming from Stairwell 8. She went to check and saw another hospital staffer, who told her there was a body lying between the third- and fourth-floor landings, Harris said.

The senior staffer, a supervisor, then called the San Francisco Sheriff's Department to relay the report, Critchfield told Harris, according to the lawyer. The sheriff's department oversees security on the hospital's campus.

It's not known what happened immediately after that.

Sheriff's department spokeswoman Susan Fahey would neither confirm nor deny the call or any subsequent response. She said on Thursday that she could not discuss specifics of an ongoing investigation.

Authorities have not detailed how Spalding died.

She was admitted to the hospital for a bladder infection. When she disappeared on September 21, she was listed in "fair condition," the hospital and sheriff's department said earlier this month in a joint statement. The statement added that hospital employees and sheriff's deputies searched for Spalding.

On October 8, a member of the hospital's engineering staff, who was conducting a routine quarterly check, found her body in an exterior stairwell. The hospital and sheriff's department noted the alarmed stairwell, which exits to the hospital grounds at the bottom, "is a fire exit that is not routinely used by staff, patients or the public."

-- CNN's Greg Botelho and Chelsea J. Carter contributed to this report.

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