County president sends in manager to oversee morgue

January 20, 2012 (CHICAGO)

Unlike other government facilities, the county morgue is not a place most people ever see. If there is a problem at the medical examiner's office, it takes insiders to blow the whistle, which has been the case that past 10 days, as several concerned employees have come forward to describe bodies being treated with disrespect and unsanitary conditions.

Inside photos that the I-Team revealed Thursday prompted an announcement Friday by the county's top official.

"We've had a series of issues at the medical examiner's office," said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. "This week I've detailed a senior member of the bureau of administration to be present in the ME's office every day going forward to see if we can address some of the issues there."

These are the issues: Hundreds of bodies have been unceremoniously piled up at the county morgue. Some of the remains are uncovered and left to rot for months, or in some cases for more than a year, according to employees who took photos and have asked not to be identified for fear of losing their jobs.

Many of the nearly three dozen photos obtained by the I-Team -- too gruesome to show -- reveal bodies stacked on wooden caskets and even on the floor, some remains desecrated with trash or old clothes.

Friday afternoon, at an unrelated news conference, Preckwinkle said she believes, if Cook County Medical Examiner Dr. Nancy Jones has some management oversight, the morgue problems can be solved.

"In response to the issues that have been raised recently, we're sending senior staff there to provide management assistance and support, and we think we'll be able to improve management in the medical examiner's office as a result," Preckwinkle said.

This week, 30 adult corpses, and 47 fetuses and babies, have been removed from the morgue and buried in indigent graves.

One of the causes of the backlog at the morgue has been a decline in state aid to those whose families can't afford burial.

The county medical examiner, Dr. Nancy Jones, is quoted as calling the situation at her morgue "an anomaly." She did not respond to the I-Team's numerous calls for comment this week, but she told The Chicago Tribune the problems are all related to that state aid for indigent burials and that she is doing the best she can.

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