Cook Co. makes morgue more accountable

March 2, 2012 4:43:06 AM PST
The Cook County board passed a series of ordinances Thursday that will bring more accountability to the medical examiner's office.

Cook County commissioners passed new, strict regulations Thursday, six weeks after the ABC 7 I-Team began reporting on mismanagement at the M.E.'s office and bodies that were improperly handled.

For more than 35 years the Cook County medical examiner has been essentially a lifetime appointment, appointed by the county board president, but virtually unfireable, as pointed out recently by critics, no different than a Supreme Court justice.

When the I-Team first revealed unsightly photos of bodies piling up at the morgue, the calls began for a reformation of the M.E.'s office, and Thursday it happened.

"With these reforms, we'll have more accountability, things will be more cleaned up, we won't have the over-piling of bodies that currently exists at the county morgue right now," said Sheila Hostetler, Brian Warren's sister.

Warren's sisters recounted a real-life horror story, first told by the I-Team last month, how the 54-year-old South Sider went missing in late December, how the family searched for him, repeatedly calling the medical examiner, and how two weeks later they learned that his body was in the morgue the entire time.

"There is a disconnect there," said Jeff Tobolski, (D) Cook County commissioner. "People aren't sure what they should be doing, protocol and procedure, all the things that enable an office to run efficiently. I'm not passing any judgment on the medical examiner, but there is an issue here, that is what the family has tried to say here."

Tobolski's proposal passed Thursday, requiring the morgue to attempt to notify next-of-kin within 48 hours; and it put a 60-day limit on how long most bodies can be at the morgue.

"I think the problem there has been mismanagement, to put it kindly," said Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle. "There were some terminations of people not doing their jobs there last week and I expect there to be further terminations."

Preckwinkle Thursday backed passage of another ordinance, setting a five-year term for the medical examiner.

Preckwinkle's chief administrative officer also appeared at Thursday's meeting and was questioned about why the county hasn't taken up an offer of 300 free graves from Catholic cemeteries.

"Eventually I believe we will use them all, but it's not going to be right away," said chief administrative officer Robin Kelly. "We are meeting next week. We already have the meeting set up."

One question not answered Thursday: What is the future of embattled Cook County Medical Examiner Dr. Nancy Jones? The county president Thursday declined to offer any assessment of whether Jones would be fired under the new ordinance that makes it easier to do so.

Dr. Jones herself has still not made any public statements on the scandal.

As the I-Team reported Wednesday, Jones has met privately with county commissioners to smooth things over.