There is a terrible story hitting the headlines where I live. San Francisco General Hospital “lost” a patient a few weeks ago. Nobody knew where she was. She was later found dead in an outside stairwell where she apparently collapsed.

Think about that. A disoriented hospital patient goes missing — and nobody checked the stairwell!

Except, she was seen by an orderly — who stepped over her twice and reported the find — and nobody did anything. From the San Francisco Chronicle story:

According to the sources, a hospital orderly told a nurse Oct. 1 that he had seen a woman, apparently passed out, on the fourth floor of the stairwell. The orderly said he had stepped over the prone woman twice, once going downstairs and again when he returned to the fifth-floor door that he had used to enter the stairwell.

The nurse contacted the Sheriff’s Department, the sources said. Sheriff’s deputies provide security at San Francisco General.

Here’s where it gets really awful. It wasn’t the nurses’ or anyone but the sheriff deputies’ job to walk a score or so yards and check the stairwell!

The hospital’s apparent handling of the report of the unconscious woman followed standard practices, said Stephen La Plante, former chief of public safety for the city Public Health Department, which formerly oversaw security at San Francisco General.

He retired this year as the city’s emergency medical services administrator. Reviewing security “It’s the deputies who go check, who perform the well-being check for anyone found outside a hospital ward,” La Plante said. “That is just the standard of practice in American hospitals. I would never expect a nurse to go outside the ward, down a hallway and into a fire escape stairwell. That is automatically the purview of the security force.”

Not the nurses’ job to check the stairwell. Not their job to follow up. Not their job to make sure the sheriffs did — even when the call went out about a missing patient! Even when it was apparent that the patient needed immediate and urgent medical aid.

As a probable result of the “not my job” rules and/or mentality, a woman died.

What has happened to us?

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Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC
Wesley J. Smith, J.D., Special Consultant to the CBC