Sheriff's Department fires 1, disciplines others after patient's death in hospital stairwell

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SAN FRANCISCO — San Francisco Sheriff's Department officials say one staff member has been fired, two have been suspended, and five others are facing discipline a year after the body of a 57-year-old hospital patient was found in a stairwell 17 days after she disappeared from her room.

Lynne Spalding's body was found a year ago this month by a building engineer checking the locked stairwell at San Francisco General Hospital. Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has acknowledged that deputies never checked many of the hospital's stairwells even after they were directed to do so.

Senior Deputy Enrique Luquin on Tuesday confirmed the personnel actions the department has taken but declined to discuss the employees involved or what roles they played in the search.

Spalding was being treated for a bladder infection and was described as disoriented when she left her room.

Since Spalding's death, Luquin said, nine additional Sheriff's Department employees have joined the hospital, with another 15 coming by the end of the year. The department also has reformed policies covering hospital stairwell patrols, deputy dispatch and searches.

Her death sparked multiple investigations focusing on failures of communication between the hospital and sheriff's deputies who provide security and conducted a haphazard search for the woman.

Staff members working the graveyard shift when Spalding came in were told to check on her every 15 minutes and cautioned in writing, "NEVER to leave patient unattended," according to a report from California public health inspectors.

Later that morning, after Spalding had wandered into a nursing station, was unable to identify the date and spoke nonsensically, a doctor wrote an order for a "coach/sitter" to provide around-the-clock bedside supervision. Instead, the state inspectors found, she went unsupervised for at least 40 minutes before her disappearance because the staff member assigned to look in on her was called away for an errand and a meeting and no one was assigned as a replacement.

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