Lawyer Disputes San Francisco Hospital Stairway Death Report

December 17, 2013

An attorney for the woman found dead in a San Francisco General Hospital stairwell disputed on Saturday a coroner’s report saying her death was probably due to a chemical imbalance related to chronic alcohol abuse.

Haig Harris asserted that Lynne Spalding’s death wasn’t related to alcoholism and insisted that she died of starvation or dehydration.

“To suggest alcoholism was involved is an outrageous, gratuitous comment,” Harris told the San Francisco Chronicle a day after the medical examiner’s report was released.

Spalding, 57, was found in a locked stairwell on Oct. 8, 17 days after she went missing from her hospital room. The coroner’s report said she died accidentally and the cause was “probable electrolyte imbalance with delirium” because of “complications of chronic ethanolism.”

She had been admitted to the hospital Sept. 19 with a urinary infection, and she also had an altered mental state for one to two months and weight loss for two weeks, the report said.

Two days after she was admitted, she disappeared from her hospital room. Spalding was confused and delirious that day, the report said. She didn’t know the day or time or even why she was in the hospital, according to the report, which also said her laboratory test results were consistent with “alcoholic liver disease.”

Harris said the mention of alcoholism “demeans the memory of this woman, without telling us when she died, how long she was out there suffering.”

He said Spalding drank wine nightly and had suffered weight loss from not eating.

David Perry, a family spokesman who knew Spalding for six years, denied Friday that Spalding ever had an alcohol problem.

An after-hours call to the medical examiner’s office was not immediately returned.

The hospital said it has instituted a number of measures after Spalding’s death, including daily stairwell checks and new training for security staff.

Several employees with the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, which provides hospital security, were reassigned after Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi acknowledged that a thorough search was never conducted for Spalding.

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