THE death of a Peterlee mum whose body was found in a hospital stairwell in America weeks after going missing was linked to chronic alcohol abuse, a coroner has found.
Lynne Spalding, 57, who emigrated from the North East to the US 20 years ago, disappeared from her room at San Francisco General Hospital on September 21.
The mother of two was found in the locked stairwell by a member of the hospital’s engineering staff during a routine check 17 days after she vanished.
San Francisco assistant medical examiner Ellen Moffat said in a new report that Ms Spalding probably died of a chemical imbalance due to complications caused by chronic alcohol abuse.
She had been dead for days before being discovered.
The notes add that Ms Spalding was confused and delirious when she disappeared and not aware of what day it was or why she was in hospital.
Several employees with the city sheriff’s department responsible for hospital security were reassigned after Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi acknowledged that a thorough search for Ms Spalding was never conducted.
Following the hearing, family spokesman David Perry expressed outrage at the autopsy report, saying it had failed to answer the most basic questions about the date and time she died.
He added: “The idea that our friend and family member died of neglect and either staved to death or died from lack of fluids just feet away from medical attention is just too much to bear.”
Earlier this year, San Francisco mayor Ed Lee announced that an independent consultant will investigate the hospital’s security and patient safety protocols.
“This should not have happened, we all agree, and we want to prevent it from ever happening again,” Mr Lee said.
A separate police inquiry into Ms Spalding’s death and an internal investigation of hospital security measures by San Francisco sheriff’s department are being carried out.
Mr Lee said: “A thorough independent review is required, and we will do that.
“The city is responsible for what happened here.”
Ms Spalding’s friends and relatives spent days scouring the streets of the Californian city with flyers because they were under the assumption that San Francisco General had been searched, and Lynne was not there.
Speaking after her discovery, family spokesman David Perry said Ms Spalding, a marketing and sales expert, had retained her British accent, which was “thick enough to peel the paint off a ship”.
“She was the very best of England and the US combined,” he said.
“Her loss will be felt greatly, not only in her family but across San Francisco because everyone knew Lynne Spalding here.”
Ms Spalding arrived at the hospital thin and frail with her children worried about her condition.
She was admitted for a bladder or urinary tract infection on September 19 and was reported missing from her room two days later.