Cook Co. Medical Examiner's Office touts improvements 4 years after investigation

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In 2012, the ABC7 I-Team investigated the Cook County morgue after allegations that bodies were piled up. (WLS)

In 2012, the ABC7 I-Team investigated the Cook County morgue after allegations that bodies were piled up.

Employees inside the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office were concerned about potential health hazards to workers.

The medical examiner's office opened its doors to cameras to show off a department they say has become a national role model.

"It should serve as an assurance to the families of those that pass through the medical examiner's office that the deceased are treated with dignity and care and respect," said Toni Preckwinkle, Cook County Board president.

Four years ago, it was a different story. The Cook County Medical Examiner's Office was in disarray. Hundreds of bodies were stacked up in open boxes and bags, crammed onto shelves and piled on the floor of the morgue. Many were the bodies of indigents that lay unclaimed and unburied. Others fell through the cracks of a poorly administered office and overworked staff.

"So our brother was in the morgue for two weeks and we are just now finding him? That's not acceptable. That's not right," Bernice Terry said in 2012.

Officials say just about everything has changed since then. Additional staff was hired to lessen the burden of an office that handles about 5,000 autopsies a year.

"When we started there were five doctors and me doing the work of what should be 18 or 19 doctors," said Dr. Stephen Cina, Cook County medical examiner.

Despite the improvements, challenges remain, though officials say they are minor compared to those of the past.

"One of them is not being able to complete 90 percent of our autopsy reports in 60 days. Another one is not being able to complete 90 percent of toxicology reports in 60 days," said Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, Cook County Medical Examiner's Office.

The Cook County Medical Examiner's office will have to undergo a yearly review in order to maintain its full national accreditation.

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