Woman found dead in SF General stairwell had been missing for 10 days

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Authorities revealed on Thursday that an elderly woman who was found dead in an interior stairwell at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital had been missing for 10 days prior.

According to the San Francisco Sheriff's Department, 76-year-old dementia patient Ruby Lee Andersen had been missing since May 20. She was a resident of a board and care facility on the hospital grounds but had not been admitted to the hospital itself. 

Andersen was allowed to sign herself in and out of the facility, authorities said. But officials declined to specify why Andersen was at the board and care facility, saying they had not gotten permission from her family.

Her body was discovered at about 1 p.m. Wednesday, by a member of the hospital engineering staff in the power-plant building. Before her body was discovered, anyone could have accessed that building between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., said Roland Pickens, director of the San Francisco Health Network.

Pickens said that has now changed. The power-plant building now requires ID-badge access, 24 hours a day.

An autopsy is pending at the investigation is ongoing, according to authorities. 

The stairwell is in the power plant building, which is not generally used by patients or patrolled by deputies. 

Kagan earlier had said at a news conference that she did not know how the woman gained access to the building. Kagan said the woman was not a patient at San Francisco General but noted that there were other facilities on the same campus operated by the San Francisco Department of Public Health. They include the 47-bed Mental Health Rehabilitation Center.

The case is being investigated by the Department of Public Health, San Francisco Sheriff and San Francisco Police Department. Investigators are looking at surveillance video for information. 

This is the second time a body was found in the stairwell at San Francisco General Hospital. The body of patient Lynn Spalding was found in a stairwell on October, 8, 2013, 17 days after she was reported missing.  Spalding, 57, was admitted to the hospital on September 19, 2013 with a bladder infection. She went missing on September 21, 2013. 

Spalding's family filed a claim against  hospital and the Sheriff’s Department, which provides security at San Francisco General, for multiple failures related to her care and the search for her after she vanished.

San Francisco and the University of California agreed to pay Spalding's family a $3 million settlement in December 2014. 

"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," Kagan said.

"We've seen a loophole now in the system," Kagan said. 

Pickens said, "Hindsight is 20-20. When that unfortunate case of Ms. Spaulding happened, it was clear she was a patient in the hospital. That's where all the energy and focus went... Power-plant was just not on the radar at the time."

Bay City News Services and Associated Press contributed to this report