Ministers ask to go inside Cook Co. morgue cooler

January 27, 2012 2:50:31 PM PST
Just days after photos showed bodies piled up at the Cook County morgue, a group of ministers asked for a firsthand look inside the cooler.

Homewood Memorial Gardens has handled burials of the indigent for a long time under the terms of a contract with Cook County. On average, there are 250 such burials every year.

The much-publicized backlog of bodies in the morgue is largely due to dramatic cuts in state funding for burial expenses, according to the chief medical examiner. But others contend it's much more a matter of administrative failure at the morgue.

"Some of us saw this coming a long time ago, and I guess we now see just how interconnected we all are," the Rev. Marshall Hatch said.

Hatch was part of a group of ministers who went to the Cook County morgue on Friday. They asked for a firsthand look at the cooler, where recent pictures have raised troubling questions about the care and handling of a body population that has exceeded the morgue's capacity.

"This city is a world class city, and this is the ultimate disrespect to the dead," the Reverend Ira Acree said.

The ministers were not allowed in. They joined in prayer and called for the creation of a citizen panel that includes clergy and would be given authority in dealing with operations at the morgue. At the very least, the group wants the availability to regularly go inside the morgue and see how it all works ? or doesn't.

"We have to make sure that no person who died within the county - any indigent - their remains aren't allowed to be treated as shabbily as they have been by the county," James Willkowski said.

"We need transparency. We need answers, and we need them right away," Acree said.

The ministers are not calling for the removal of the chief medical examiner, Doctor Nancy Jone, but say the office needs an administrative fix. Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle, who promised a top to bottom review of the medical examiner's office and new protocol for the employees on Thursday, has yet to receive a formal request from the ministers, but, according to her office, is always open to hearing new ideas.