Missing S.F. hospital patient found

February 21, 2008 7:05:39 PM PST
A disabled man who was missing from a San Francisco hospital has been found, but questions still remain about what went wrong when he was transferred between two hospitals.

"What did your dad say to you when he saw you?," asks ABC7's Carolyn Tyler.

"He said hello and had a great big smile on his face," says Bebe Etzler.

Bebe Etzler's father William is back at San Francisco General Hospital where his saga began Tuesday morning. The 54-year-old stroke patient was transferred from San Francisco General to Laguna Honda for rehabilitation and then just disappeared.

Inspector Benjamin Spiteri did a bit of detective work and found the missing man Thursday morning at a friend's home. It's still unclear how he got there.

"He did get up off the couch. Obviously he did have a stroke and he was of pretty good sound mind and looked pretty good," says Inspector Spiteri.

The inspector says Etzler told him he walked away from Laguna Honda after spending hours unattended. The hospital says it was more like 15 minutes and that nurses never received any paperwork from the paramedics to officially admit him.

"We typically want a transfer form and want it signed so we can ensure the safety and security of the person being transferred," says Marc Slavin, Laguna Honda spokesman.

But the St. Joseph ambulance service says its paramedics followed industry protocol and gave what's called a patient care form to Laguna Honda.

"We had delivered the patient to the medical staff so the transfer of care was present. We did what is done nationwide on every ambulance call," says a representative from St. Joseph's ambulance service.

State health officials say a written sign-off is required, but the city's Director of Emergency Medical Services disagrees.

"It might be something that might delay people's care. They would be sitting around even longer while signatures were being sought and copies were being made," says John Brown, MD, MPA

Dr. Brown says policy does call for face to face talks between paramedics and medical staff when a patient is dropped off. His agency is now investigating exactly what happened in William Etzler's case.

William Etzler might need to come back to Laguna Honda for rehabilitation. His son says the family is not opposed if he needs the care. Laguna Honda officials say he would be welcome.