Dementia Patient Found Dead in Restricted Stairwell at S.F. General

Preventing Elderly Patient Wandering and Elopement: Part 1

A missing elderly patient with dementia was found dead Wednesday in a stairwell of a power plant at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, making this the second incident of its kind at the hospital in five years.

Charlene Roberts says her mother, 75-year-old Ruby Andersen, went missing on May 20 from the nearby Behavioral Health Center Residential Care Facility for the Elderly, which is run by the San Francisco Department of Public Health, reports Sacramento Bee.

An engineering staffer at the hospital found Andersen’s body at approximately 1 p.m. on Wednesday. Investigators are working to determine how long her body had been there before it was discovered.

Hospital spokeswoman Rachael Kagan said the woman was not a patient at the San Francisco hospital but noted that there are other facilities on the same campus, including the 47-bed mental health residential center.

“We are very concerned how this could have happened,” she said. “We’re looking into how it can be prevented in the future. We’ve seen a loophole now in the system, or a consequence that can happen that had never happened before.”

Kagan added that doors to the stairwell are typically locked and are only accessible to maintenance workers. As a result, the hospital will now require 24/7 security badge access, according to ABC 7.

San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy, whose department provides security to the hospital, said Andersen was allowed to sign herself in and out of the residential care facility, which she did on May 19 and told staff she would return at 4 p.m. that day.

Wednesday’s incident wasn’t the first of its kind at S.F. General. In Oct. 2013, 57-year-old patient Lynne Spalding disappeared from her room at the hospital. Her body was found more than two weeks later in another stairwell that was supposed to be routinely checked by security.

Spalding is believed to have been dead for several days before she was discovered. Her cause of death was ruled accidental due to an electrolyte imbalance, a condition that can be caused by dehydration.

“That was a terrible tragedy. We’ve made many, many changes since that time and we have no reason to believe that this case and that case are connected, but we don’t know very much about this situation yet,” said Kagan.

The Sheriff’s Department paid Spalding’s family $3 million to settle a legal claim.

Wednesday’s incident is being investigated by the Department of Public Health, the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, the San Francisco Police Department and the San Francisco Fire Department.

Andersen’s cause of death has yet to be determined but an autopsy is being conducted by the San Francisco medical examiner’s office.

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