Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle today announced that the County Medical Examiner’s Office has been awarded provisional accreditation by the National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME).
Provisional accreditation recognizes that the office is making substantial progress toward or meeting professional standards in key areas of operations, staffing and procedures. The professional recognition follows months of preparation and a site visit by representatives of NAME last month.
Preckwinkle was joined for the announcement Thursday by Dr. Stephen Cina, Chief Cook County Medical Examiner. The announcement comes about two years after Preckwinkle promised to make drastic changes at the Medical Examiner’s Office.
“My administration has focused on making the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office a model of professionalism and operating efficiency,” President Preckwinkle said. “Gaining provisional accreditation shows the remarkable progress that has been made under Dr. Cina’s leadership.”
Dr. Cina was hired in September 2012. Since then, Preckwinkle said he has instituted new policies and procedures, raised expectations of employee performance, upgraded operations and brought a culture of change to the office.
The County has also invested in the office through additional staffing and equipment. A new $1.4 million state-of-the-art cooler, which will replace 30-year-old infrastructure, is in the final stages of completion. The office’s old record-keeping system will soon be replaced by a $900,000 digital case management system. The FY 2014 budget authorized 126 positions, up from 100 budgeted positions in FY 2013.
“Our staff is committed to providing the highest level of service to the citizens of Cook County, and NAME accreditation recognizes that commitment,” Dr. Cina said. “They worked hard to transform us into one of the premier death investigation agencies in the country in just two short years. This achievement would not have been possible without the strong support of our County’s leadership.”
Some benefits of provisional accreditation include:
It inspires public confidence that best practices are in place and are being followed.
It provides credibility when Dr. Cina or another of the County’s pathologists has to testify in court.
It is evidence that key professional standards and measures are being followed to ensure that pathologists’ caseloads allow for quality work.
It puts the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office into play for grant funding and sustains its fellowship program.
“Accreditation can only be achieved with a team effort between County administrators providing the appropriate resources and staff using those resources wisely,” said Dr. David Fowler, Chief Medical Examiner of the state of Maryland and head of the NAME Accreditation Committee. “With this accreditation, Cook County residents can be confident that your office is professional and that any person who comes through this office will be treated in accordance with the standards of the National Association of Medical Examiners: respect, dignity and the application of the best scientific methods available.”
Dr. Cina said the office will continue to pursue full accreditation during the next couple of years. He expects to accomplish that by continuing to fill open key positions and by making additional capital improvements to the facility.
Preckwinkle also announced that James Sledge has joined the Medical Examiner’s Office as Executive Officer. An attorney by background who comes to the ME’s Office with managerial experience in state and local government, Sledge will focus on day-to-day management, allowing Dr. Cina more time on medical issues. Sledge’s appointment also establishes multiple layers of accountability in the Medical Examiner’s Office.
The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office investigates more than 5,000 cases per year and can perform, as necessary, up to 3,000 autopsies annually.
“Make no mistake, to move the needle from where we were two years ago to where we are today is a remarkable achievement,” Preckwinkle said. “And perhaps most importantly, this announcement should serve as an assurance to those whose loved ones pass through the Medical Examiner’s Office that the deceased are treated with dignity, care and respect.”