Cross posted from Frederick Leatherman Law Blog

On September 19, 2013 Lynne Spalding’s boyfriend and daughter decided to take her to the ER at San Francisco General Hospital (SFGH) because she had recently lost a lot of weight and was exhibiting signs of mental disorientation. She was diagnosed with a urinary tract infection and admitted to the hospital for treatment.

Two days later, she disappeared.

An engineer employed by the hospital discovered her body in a locked exterior stairwell during a routine check 17 days later.

KPLCtv.com reports that the medical examiner conducted an autopsy and concluded that Spalding,

died of ‘probable electrolyte imbalance with delirium … clinical sepsis … while in stairwell due to complications of chronic ethanolism …clinical history.’

Dr. Thomas Shaughnessey of Sutter Health in San Francisco explained the medical examiner’s report.

‘The electrolyte imbalances, in combination with a liver whose inability to compensate for them, resulted in a collapse of her heart or her brain resulting in death,’ Shaughnessey said.

Her family denies that she was an alcoholic.

They hired a lawyer, Haig Harris.

The San Francisco Chronicle (sfgate.com) reported yesterday,

The report’s comment was ‘a cheap shot and a nonmedical one at that,’ Haig Harris, who represents Spalding’s family, said in an interview.

‘The bottom line is she didn’t have fluids for any number of days from the day she went out (from her room) until the day she died – they were trying to make it as though she was a woman who was going to die anyway,’ he said. ‘It’s absurd. None of it makes any sense. She did not die from alcoholism.’

No one at the medical examiner’s office was available for comment Saturday.

The San Francisco Sheriff’s Department has acknowledged multiple breakdowns in its efforts to find Spalding – including an admission that no one searched for her after a hospital researcher reported that he had spotted someone collapsed on her back in the stairwell on Oct. 4.

A day earlier, the Chronicle (sfgate.com) reported,

The stairwell was used as a fire escape, and the door accessing it was equipped with an alarm. But the door was locked from inside, meaning a person in the stairwell could not return to the halls of the hospital – though the person could exit the building on the first floor.

San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi, whose agency provides security at the hospital, has admitted that deputies did not consider Spalding to be a missing person in the first days after she vanished and never conducted a complete search of the building’s stairwells, including the one where her body was found.

Deputies did not act on a report made Oct. 4 about a sighting of a body in the area where Spalding was ultimately discovered, Mirkarimi said.

The Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on the death report.

Lynne Spalding was 57-years old.

Her death was not the only preventable death in our nation’s hospitals.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences published a report in 1999, titled To err is human, in which it concluded that there are “44,000 to 98,000 preventable deaths annually due to medical error in hospitals, 7,000 preventable deaths related to medication errors alone.”

There is no evidence-based reason to believe that those numbers have declined.

For more information on preventable hospital deaths in the US and world, go here.