SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — San Francisco sheriff's deputies did not conduct a campus-wide search for a missing hospital patient whose body was eventually found in a locked emergency stairwell until nine days after the woman disappeared from her room, the city's sheriff said Wednesday.
Breaking a month long silence about his department's handling of 57-year-old Lynne Spalding Ford's disappearance and eventual death, Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi also revealed that his officers never searched about half of the stairwells at San Francisco General Hospital even after a supervisor ordered the stairwells checked.
"She could have been anyone's loved one, which is why the gravity of the situation is not lost on any of us," he said. "What happened to Miss Spalding Ford should not have happened to anyone."
The details arose from the department's internal investigation and chronology of its employees' actions from the time Spalding Ford went missing on Sept. 21 — two days after she was admitted for treatment of a urinary tract infection — and when a hospital engineer found her body on Oct. 8. The sheriff's department provides security at San Francisco General, the city's largest public hospital.
Mirkarimi did not comment on the findings, saying he does not want to offer opinions on the case because it still is under investigation by San Francisco police, an independent auditor hired by the city and the California Department of Public Health, among others. He nonetheless apologized to Spalding Ford's family, which includes two adult children.
Although sheriff's deputies at the hospital did a "perimeter search" of San Francisco General's 24-acre campus within an hour after Spalding Ford disappeared, it was not until Sept. 30 that they attempted a more thorough search of the grounds at the request of the hospital's "risk management" department, Mirkarimi said.
The next day, after it became clear that not all the stairwells used as fire exits had been searched, a supervisor ordered the stairwell searches to continue, yet "only about half the stairwells" ever were, he said.
Then, on Oct. 4, 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. A sheriff's dispatcher told hospital officials the department would respond, but "there is no indication that any one was dispatched to that stairwell."
The sheriff's department's chronology also revealed that miscommunication hampered the search for Spalding Ford from the beginning. The hospital staff member who first contacted the sheriff's department about 40 minutes after the patient went missing described her as being black and wearing a hospital grown.
That night, a sheriff's department employee made a notation in the security unit's log book indicating that Ford Spalding was Asian. She actually was white and when she was found, she was wearing her own clothes.