By Ronnie Cohen
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A British-born woman who mysteriously disappeared from her San Francisco hospital bed was found dead 17 days later in a stairwell in the same medical center, after a massive search that saw tour bus operators hand out flyers, officials said on Wednesday.
A San Francisco General Hospital employee found the body of Lynne Spalding, 57, during a routine, quarterly check of the exterior stairway at the facility on Tuesday, San Francisco Assistant Sheriff Paul Miyamoto told reporters.
Miyamoto and hospital officials declined to answer any questions surrounding the death of the longtime San Francisco resident and mother, and they did not release a cause of death for her.
Spalding was admitted to the city-run hospital on September 19 and was last seen in her hospital bed on the morning of September 21, said Todd May, the hospital's chief medical officer.
The sheriff's department claimed to have searched the hospital, while hundreds of friends and relatives handed out leaflets throughout the Bay Area in a vain attempt to find Spalding, said family spokesman David Perry.
"It certainly boggles the mind that while we were searching, Lynne was either dead or dying inside the hospital," Perry told Reuters. "There is something systemically wrong with how this was handled."
Todd May, the hospital's chief medical officer, appeared contrite.
"What happened at our hospital is horrible," he said. "This has shaken us to our core. We don't know what happened to this woman."
He added that he is "committed to getting to the root cause of this tragedy."
Perry is a public relations professional and friend of Spalding who he said previously worked in the hospitality field.
"I'm really angry," Perry said after the news conference, which he attended. "I'm here because I wanted to hear answers.
"I don't know how Lynne Spalding's body got into that stairwell, how Lynne Spalding died, and how Lynne Spalding got from her hospital bed to the stairwell steps away."
Perry said Spalding went to the hospital after losing weight and appearing disoriented. He said he believed she had been diagnosed with a bladder infection.
Hospital officials said only she was in fair condition when she disappeared. May said the exterior stairwell where Spalding was found was locked from the outside and equipped with an alarm. It was unclear how far the stairway was from her bed.
Tour bus drivers who knew Spalding handed out fliers about her disappearance to thousands of tourists.
Perry described Spalding as "feisty." "She filled a room," he said. "I hardly ever saw her when she wasn't smiling."
Spalding leaves a 19-year-old son and a 23-year-old daughter, Perry said.
(Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis)