San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi is apologizing for his department's slow and incomplete search for a missing San Francisco General Hospital patient whose body was found in a stairwell by a hospital engineer two weeks after she disappeared.
The sheriff discussed "preliminary findings" Wednesday at a press conference held to discuss the investigation into the case of Lynne Spalding, whose body found Oct. 8 in a little-used hospital stairwell.
"We are eager, like everyone else, to get to the bottom line of what happened to Ms. Spalding Ford," Mirkarimi said.
He said it took his department nine days after Lynne Spalding was initially reported missing from her hospital room to conduct a hospital-wide search for the 57-year-old patient, who disappeared Sept. 21.
Mirkarimi says deputies started the search on Sept. 30, but only checked about half the facility's stairwells. Four days later, a hospital staff member told the sheriff's department that someone had reported seeing a body in a locked stairwell of the building where Spalding had been a patient.
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Mirkarimi says a dispatcher told hospital officials the department would respond, but there was no indication anyone ever did.
During Mirkarimi's press conference he did a play-by-play of the search, which he said showed several flaws. The sheriff said Spalding was once described as a black woman and later described as an Asian, when in fact she was a white British woman.
“It just becomes more troubling that now they’re looking for an African American woman or they’re looking for an Asian woman,” said family attorney Haig Harris. “They don’t seem to know who their patient was.”
Mirkarimi said an attempt to review video footage from the hospital failed because of hardware problems.
In a statement released after the sheriff’s news conference, the hospital’s spokeswoman says SF General “has been cooperating with all of the investigations into this tragedy, including those by law enforcement, and now also by federal health care regulators.”
“The federal investigation is helping us tremendously to learn more about what happened to Ms. Spalding,” SFGH CEO Sue Currin said in the statement.
The statement says the hospital is taking measure to make sure “what happened to Ms. Spalding…will never happen again.”
Spalding's story has made international headlines and critics have wondered how a patient could have been missing for so long.