An elderly woman whose family says she had dementia was found dead in a stairwell at a power plant near a San Francisco hospital 11 days after checking herself out of a nearby city-run care facility, officials said Thursday.
Ruby Andersen, 75, lived at the care facility across the street from Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and left May 19 to visit her family. Staff members called authorities and reported her missing the next day when Andersen didn't return, San Francisco Sheriff Vicki Hennessy said. Deputies also contacted her family.
The case is similar to an incident five years ago when a missing patient from the hospital was found dead in a stairwell more than two weeks after she disappeared from her room. It prompted authorities to overhaul security and implement thorough searches for missing patients.
Deputies check every "nook and cranny" if a hospital patient is reported missing but there is no protocol for the same situation at the residential care facility of the Behavioral Health Center, which is run by the city's public health department, said Hennessy, whose agency is responsible for security at both facilities.
"We're going to be reviewing everything to see where the holes are because it looks like we need to do better," she said.
Deputies looked for Andersen in the hospital, jails and the morgue on May 20 and contacted her family, Hennessy said. Once they heard from relatives on May 22, the department put out a missing-person flyer for her.
Andersen's daughter, Charlene Roberts, told San Francisco news station KRON-TV on Wednesday that her mother had dementia and two hearing aids.
"I don't know how she died," Roberts said. "Did she have a stroke or fell? I don't know what happened."
Officials said an autopsy would be conducted Thursday but they could not discuss her health condition because of privacy laws.
The 50-resident care facility serves people with mental conditions who are 60 and older and need non-medical support, including ensuring they take their medications and eat properly, said Kelly Hiramoto, director of the Behavioral Health Center.
Andersen was found in a stairwell of a power plant across the street from the main hospital campus and that usually is locked and only accessible to maintenance workers. But the buildings had recently been left open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. because personnel and vendors were regularly entering, said Roland Pickens, director of the Department of Public Health's San Francisco Health Network. He didn't explain why.
"As of yesterday, that security badge access requirement was reactivated," Pickens said Thursday.
The San Francisco Sheriff's Department paid the family of the woman found dead in a hospital stairwell five years ago $3 million to settle a legal claim. An autopsy determined that 57-year-old Lynne Spalding had been dead for several days before her body was found in a stairwell that was supposed to be routinely checked by security.