Official calls for changes at Cook Co. morgue

January 25, 2012 8:11:47 PM PST
The crisis deepens at the Cook County morgue where hundreds of bodies have been piling up for months and medical examiner Nancy Jones is under fire.

The ABC7 I-Team has learned that new legislation is in the works to allow easier removal of the medical examiner.

The medical examiner, who oversees autopsies and manages the morgue, is hired by the county board president but under current law can't be fired the same way. On Thursday morning, the I-Team has learned, Commissioner John Fritchey will file legislation that would change that. Fritchey says that the medical examiner's job shouldn't be like that of a Supreme Court justice who serves for life.

"I'm looking at legislation which would allow the medical examiner to be removed at the direction of the president but with an affirmative vote of the board of commissioners," said Fritchey. "This is not something that is aimed at Dr. Jones. I think this is the right policy regardless of who the medical examiner is."

Intended to force out medical examiner Nancy Jones or not, Jones would likely be the first to fall under Fritchey's proposal.

Jones is already under the scrutiny of a top county manager, deployed to oversee her operation by county board president Toni Preckwinkle. President Preckwinkle has publicly stated her dismay with the medical examiner's management.

As the I-Team exposed last week, hundreds of bodies have been piled in the county morgue for months. M.E. Jones claims it is the result of state funding cut for indigent burials.

But photos of the bodies have angered county officials, including commissioner Fritchey who says there need to be some immediate changes.

"We need to complete a review from top to bottom of personnel, policies and procedures, and that's clear that's going to be done," said Fritchey. "It's difficult to find a morgue anywhere that's going to look like one out of a TV show where everything is shiny and spotless. But there is no excuse for the photos we've seen on your broadcast."

"It's clear that something isn't working the way it should at the morgue. Right now the president has put her staff in there to understand what the problem is, what we can do to fix it, and we will take those steps as soon as we can," he continued. "It doesn't make sense that we should treat a medical examiner the same way we treat a United States Supreme Court Justice,"

Medical examiner Nancy Jones has not replied to ABC7's request for comment about the legislation that could affect her job. A spokesperson for the county board president says Dr. Jones is not doing interviews.

The victims in this situation are not only dead people.

One south suburban family says they repeatedly called the county morgue about their missing brother to see if the man had actually died and was in the cooler.