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President Preckwinkle Institutes Policy And Procedural Changes At The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office


President Preckwinkle today addressed staff and senior management at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, announcing policy and procedural changes that will institute stricter controls, accountability and disciplinary measures throughout the department.  Today’s announcement marks the culmination of a months-long internal review of operations and hiring needs at the ME’s office by the president’s senior staff.

Shortly after coming into office, President Preckwinkle expressed concern about overall operations at the ME’s office, and began efforts toward reorganization, with the goal of greater efficiency.   Recent complaints about storage coolers at capacity created an opportunity to take a closer examination of problem areas across the board.  The president recognizes the ME’s office faces storage challenges related to cuts in state funding and requests to hold deceased remains for extended periods of time – from funeral homes, families, the United States Veteran’s Administration, Illinois Public Aid, and the Illinois Public Administrator.  In addition, the ME’s office accepts indigent and fetal remains under circumstances that many other coroners do not, often creating a storage and burial backlog.

To rectify these conditions, the president will overhaul operations at the ME’s office, addressing deficiencies in the areas of personnel, process and policy.  Two weeks ago, at the president’s direction, executive staff from the Bureau of Administration began a full-scale internal investigation at the ME’S office in order to implement a plan of action.  In addition, senior managers are conducting ongoing research and analysis of all deceased remains stored at the ME’s office to determine how long they have been there, and why.  Expedited burials are planned for the near future, with the first taking place on February 10th.

“My team is systematically tackling the issue we’re encountering at the ME’s office – from time limits on storage to better intake processes and inventory control,” President Preckwinkle said.  “Our goal is to put written policies and procedures in place to increase efficiency and accountability.”

Based on the comprehensive review, planned changes in the area of personnel include:

  • Reorganization of senior management to best address administrative needs, including the creation of new positions;
  • New progressive disciplinary measures, along with a review of current personnel performance involving disciplinary procedures up to and including discharge;
  • More aggressive recruiting and expanded searches for qualified candidates to fill open management positions.

Added protocols and new procedures at the ME’s office will ensure greater efficiency and achievement of the public service goals required of all county departments, including:

  • Retraining and continuing education of morgue technicians;
  • Daily cooler inspections with check-off lists and multiple sign-offs;
  • Licensing of new technology programs that help identify next of kin, with the goal of assisting outside agencies in this process and expediting burials.

Additionally, President Preckwinkle will require policies that place time limits on storage of deceased remains pending burial, including:

  • Time limits on public aid storage;
  • Time limits on families requesting holds due to no burial funds;
  • Time limits for the storage of unknown remains.

The entire ME staff will be educated on the new procedures in order to standardize office response and enhance customer service.  The new written policies will be given to all employees, with disciplinary consequences for violations.

With these new measures President Preckwinkle is requiring increased diligence and greater accountability from staff to further the mutual goal of maintaining and protecting the dignity of the deceased.

10 Responses

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  4. George Garcia

    1) I don’t think a body should be left at the county mourge for more than 10 days. 2) The people I saw on tv complaining looked like they can afford a cremation at the very least !

  5. 1) I don’t think a body should be left at the county mourge for more than 10 days. 2) The people I saw on tv.complaining looked like they can afford a cremation at the very least!

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  7. Quee Taiyang

    Alderwoman Preckwinkle,

    How coudl things be allowed to get to this point? I have no doubt that the morgue has been in this state throughout the tenure of your predecessor, and that you are inheriting this mess from his corrupted administration of Cook County services.

    If nothing else, this should serve as a wake-up call that you need to go through these reviews with every department in Cook County – I have no doubt that other departments that under Todd Stroger’s administration worked as the inmates running the asylum, so to speak, are still hiding problems in their departments and counting on the fact that your administration is still coming up to speed, and hoping that they will be overlooked.

    It’s unfortunate that some people treat the dead (and their living relatives with such disrespect and disdain. Greg Dart did an outstanding job as Sherriff in sorting out the Burr Oak madness to the extent that it could be sorted out. I wouldn’t be surprised to find that bodies have been mishhandled in their disposal in a similar way in the Cook County morgue, and you should be sure that you do a thorough audit to understand how long these problems have been going on, and whether bodies have been disposed of improperly in the past.

    Thanks for doing a great job uncovering and resolving the Stroger mess Mrs. Preckwinkle!

  8. Kevin

    I don’t follow politics but I have heard a little about the Medical Examiner’s pile up issue and the religious leaders looking to be empowered to come on-site to “help out” monthly. For what it’s worth here are my thoughts.

    - They can’t un-see what they will encounter. That isn’t a burden that the untrained should bear.
    - Maybe they will consider making donations for burial fees for those that can’t afford to collect their loved one’s remains.
    - Do you have a cremation facility? Maybe they will donate to the cost of cremation.
    - Maybe they will consider teaching their congregations that cremation is not a disrespectful or disgraceful ceremony. This will help families to mentally and emotionally bear the break in tradition if they are forced to forego the funeral.
    - Make public the statute of limitations and the policy for handling John/Jane Does. The outcry would be worse if you were to respond to public requests and keep the morgue at or below average occupancy; especially if it meant that someone couldn’t find a loved one that had passed without their knowledge.

  9. L.Robinson

    It is easy to point the finger of blame at the morgue staff when the true blame lies in a county system that has ignored problems for years. Dr. Jones inherited the flawed system from her predeccesor along with multiple problematic employees. The CCME has been underfunded and endured budget cuts for so long that the fact that it is still able to function is amazing. Look at the staff turn over in the Doctors alone. There is only a handful of Doctors that have been there longer than 5 years. Also the staff is too small for the size office there is, there are too few doctors, too few technicians basically too few everything to be able to handle the amount of cases that occur in the cook county area. The problem at the CCME is simple, not enough money. Give them the funding they need to hire more individuals which will decrease the work load on those that remain still working there. Give them the money they need to upgrade the equipment and to buy supplies no office can function without money. Blame jones all you want, but the next pawn that you deem worthy to put in charge will find themselves in the same quagmire and this time you wont have old Todd to blame.

  10. Cook County resident

    Are their any laws that require an autopsy when someone dies at home?
    I was told the Medical Examiner just guessed he died of a stroke. No autopsy was done. What? He guessed? How do we know for family medical history it wasn’t a heart attack or infection? Where can I read the laws?

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