Dr. Ponni Arunkumar was reappointed as Chief Medical Examiner of Cook County following her appointment by President Toni Preckwinkle and approval today by the County’s Board of Commissioners.
Dr. Arunkumar began serving as Chief Medical Examiner in July 2016, leading the Office through an unprecedented increase in caseload due to the COVID-19 pandemic as well as sharp spikes in violent deaths and overdoses.
“Dr. Arunkumar has effectively led the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office through the deadliest pandemic in a century and a dramatic uptick in homicides and opioid overdose deaths,” President Preckwinkle said. “Dr. Arunkumar remains deeply committed to the Office, its staff, our County and its residents, and I am proud to reappoint her as our Chief Medical Examiner.”
In 2016, Dr. Arunkumar was the point-person during the process to regain accreditation through National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) and ensured that new policies and procedures required by NAME were implemented. In 2018, she received an appointment to the board of directions of NAME.
Under Dr. Arunkumar’s leadership, the American National Standards Institute – American Society of Quality National Accreditation Board awarded the MEO International Standardization Organization (ISO) accreditation for forensic testing and forensic inspection in 2019. The Office was the first in the country to receive ISO 17025 for forensic testing and laboratory calibration and only the second to receive ISO 17020 for bodies of forensic inspection.
Dr. Arunkumar established the first Missing Persons Day in Illinois in 2016 to help those with missing friends and family submit DNA samples, medical records, pictures and other records to aid in the search of their loved ones.
During her tenure, the MEO has also received four National Association of Counties Achievement Awards for initiatives like the County’s Medical Examiner’s Case Archive, the regional overdose data collaboration, the Medical Examiner COVID-19 Dashboard and the County’s Indigent Burial Program.
Dr. Arunkumar has a long affiliation with Cook County and the ME’s office. In 1999, she began an anatomic and clinical pathology residency program at what was known then as Cook County Hospital (now John H. Stroger, Jr. Hospital of Cook County). She went on to a fellowship at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office in 2003 and then was hired as an Assistant Medical Examiner in 2004. She was named Deputy Chief Medical Examiner in 2012.
“I am honored to be entrusted by President Preckwinkle and the County’s Board of Commissioners to continue my service to Cook County as Chief Medical Examiner,” Arunkumar said. “While the past year in particular has been the most challenging of my career, I am honored to lead a team of such dedicated and hard-working professionals to ensure that every patient that comes to our office is treated with dignity and respect.”