The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office will begin a pilot grief counseling program for the families of homicide victims and in other selected death cases through a program approved today by the Cook County Board of Commissioners.
Under an interagency agreement between the County and the University of Illinois-Chicago, a second-year graduate student from UIC’s Jane Addams College of Social Work will be available to assist families who come to the ME’s office for the purpose of identifying the remains of loved. Visual identification of the deceased by families is only allowed in cases of homicide or unidentified remains.
UIC will select the student to serve in the program, which will be supervised by Antonia Mayorga, executive assistant to Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cina. Mayorga holds a Master’s of Social Work degree. The Medical Examiner’s office has not previously offered grief counseling services, even on a limited basis as will be the case now.
The Board also approved several other interagency agreements between the Medical Examiner’s Office and local medical schools and hospitals which continue existing pathology education and residency programs.
“The agreements reflect the Office’s commitment to both education and meeting the emotional needs of our customers,” said Dr. Cina. “By offering some degree of in-house grief counseling through this partnership with UIC, families will be better equipped to deal with the unexpected tragedy of a sudden death. The agreements with local medical schools and residency training programs will ensure that Cook County has adequately trained pathologists over the years to come.”
The graduate student selected for the position will be studying one of two academic concentrations at the Addams School: community health and urban development, or mental health. The program will typically encompass 630 hours during the course of the school year.
Families will be counseled on the identification procedure, walked through documentation, and prepared for what they are about to see on the video monitor when identifying the remains of a loved one. Once identification is complete, families will be offered informational material and referral services if needed, and a follow-up phone call.
As part of the grief counseling initiative, a list of resources such as victim assistance and various survivor support programs regarding homicide, sudden infant death, suicide and general bereavement will be compiled and made available to families.
“It is my hope that we can help ease these families burden in some small way by providing information that may be helpful to them immediately and in the weeks after the loss of their loved one,” said Mayorga.
The Jane Addams College of Social Work is home to more than 400 graduate students pursuing master’s and doctoral degrees. Students come to the college from the Chicago metropolitan area, other parts of the United States and other countries.