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CHICAGO (CBS) — The Cook County Board on Thursday imposed new rules and regulations on the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office to address the recent scandal in which bodies were found stacked in an overflowing cooler and otherwise mishandled.
Among other changes, the new regulations make it easier to fire the Medical Examiner, who essentially had a job for life under the previous structure. Now, chief Medical Examiners will serve a five-year term.
The new rules also require greater accountability, including regular reports by the medical examiner to the county board. Also, bodies at the morge must be buried within 60 days.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports
As WBBM Newsradio’s Mike Krauser reports, crowding at the county morgue, 2121 W. Harrison St., was brought to light after a family’s two-week search for a missing man whose body was there all along.
Sheila Hostetler, the man’s sister, said even the morgue workers admitted they had the man’s body. “They were like, ‘OK come get the body,’ and it’s really so heartbreaking,” she said.
Then pictures showing conditions at the morgue came out. Most infamously, a cell phone photo revealed bodies stacked up in blue bags outside an overflowing cooler. Meanwhile, the cooler itself was supposed to hold 300 bodies, but had been filled with 363.
Hostetler said the conditions at the morgue were “even more heartbreaking to us, because he was loved by us, and he did everything that we could to search for him, and to have him there with those as if he’s not loved — like he’s a piece of trash.”
Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Nancy Jones, who did not appear before the county board, no longer has a virtual lifetime appointment.
Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey (D-12th) expressed disappointment she was not in attendance, but not everyone was critical. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle says the way the office is set up, Jones’ duties are primarily medical, not administrative.
“I don’t believe any individual is to blame for the situation,” Commissioner Peter Silvestri (R-9th.) said.
Preckwinkle said last month that 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.
The overcrowding scandal has also led to the termination of two Medical Examiner’s office workers, and disciplinary action against a third. One of the fired workers, Joel Neason, later found himself charged with assault after threatening to bring a gun to work when he found out he would be disciplined, according to published reports.