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Officials Don’t Know Why 15 Bodies Are Still At County Morgue

CBS 2 obtained this photo of bagged bodies stacked at the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office, which is over its storage capacity.

CBS 2 obtained this photo of bagged bodies stacked at the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office, which is over its storage capacity.

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CHICAGO (CBS) — A Cook County spokeswoman says officials can’t figure out the reason the Medical Examiner’s office is still holding 15 of the bodies that have been in the morgue for 10 months or longer.

In total, as WBBM Newsradio has already reported, 44 bodies have been in the morgue cooler for at least ten months, and probably longer.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Steve Miller reports

But Cook County Board President’s office spokeswoman Liane Jackson says about half have just been cleared for burial. For others, doctors had placed holds on them, or there is another reason they’re still unburied.

But there is no clue at all why 15 bodies are still being held.

“One body where we don’t know the reason that they’re there is one too many,” Jackson said. “Put into perspective, this is 15 bodies out of hundreds that do go through the Medical Examiner’s office. But that’s not an excuse.”

Jackson says Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s aim is to find out about these 15.

The Medical Examiner’s office has been at the center of a firestorm for several weeks now, ever since a cell phone photo revealed bodies stacked up in blue bags outside a cooler.

Also, 363 bodies were stored in a cooler designed to hold only 300 bodies.

Last week, Preckwinkle promised to overhaul the Medical Examiner’s office and fire some workers.

The office is looking to fill 19 jobs ranging from administrative positions to pathologists and even four assistant medical examiners.

Martha Martinez, deputy chief administrative officer for the bureau of administration within Preckwinkle’s office, is overseeing the changes. Martinez says an employee has to be sensitive to every death situation.

“You do need a sense of compassion to the deceased and their families,” Martinez tells CBS 2’s Suzanne Le Mignot.

Starting salaries can range from about $40,000 for an administrative assistant to six figures for a doctor’s position.

Preckwinkle said the morgue would have daily inspections of the overstuffed cooler, and new technology will be used to help track down relatives of the dead who are brought to the office in order to speed up the burial process.

She also said the morgue will place time limits on how long the bodies of indigent people can be stored in the cooler, as well as how long the morgue will keep remains for families trying to collect enough money for a burial. The county will also put in place new training standards for the staff, as well as a new disciplinary process.

But the County Board delayed a vote earlier this week on an ordinance that would have made it easier to fire the Medical Examiner.

As it stands now, Dr. Nancy Jones’ term as the county’s chief medical examiner lasts until she steps down or is removed for cause. Commissioner John Fritchey (D-12th) is sponsoring an ordinance that would allow the board to have the medical examiner removed by a simple majority vote.