Cook County Morgue recognized for improvements as it unveils new cooler

February 13, 2014 (CHICAGO)

On Thursday, the county morgue received recognition for the improvements that have been made at the facility.

Since the scandal erupted two winters ago, the medical examiner's office has spent $2.3 million modernizing its morgue, an effort that Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle says has earned a "provisional" accreditation.

"We've made a lot of changes in the last two years and where we are today is truly remarkable," said Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle.

In the same M.E.'s office lobby-- where she stood just over two years ago to promise change-- Preckwinkle helped announce that hundreds of dead bodies stored in refrigerated trucks on the building's back parking lot would be moved into a new, $1.4 million automated cooler.

"The automated system runs on a push button system. It pivots 180 degrees so it can pull the bodies out from either side," said Dr. Stephen Cina, Cook County Medical Examiner.

Dr. Cina-- appointed by Preckwinkle 18 months ago-- also has a new computerized system for record keeping and a 25% larger staff.

"The mood here is very positive. People are happy to work here and very proud to work here now," said Dr. Cina.

Not so during the winter of 2012, when employees provided the ABC7 I-Team with photographs of bagged bodies-- hundreds of them-- haphazardly stacked in the overcrowded morgue, many leaking fluids onto the filthy floor. And worse, the medical examiner's office had lost the identities of some.

"Our brother's been in the morgue for two weeks and we're just now finding him. That's unacceptable, that's not right," said Bernice Terry, whose family member was in the morgue in 2012.

The M.E.'s office has not been accredited since 2011. Preckwinkle and Dr. Cina hope the new cooler, added staff and other improvements take the morgue from provisional to full accreditation in 18 months.

"It should give assurance to those whose loved ones pass through the medical examiner's office that the deceased are treated with dignity, care and respect," said Preckwinkle.

The office says it will begin moving bodies from the refrigerated trucks into the new storage area as soon as the new facility is sufficiently cooled.

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