Cook County board confirms new medical examiner

Commissioners ask whether new leader can move office beyond scandal of bodies being piled up in the morgue.

July 24, 2012

Quinn Ford

(photo courtesy of Cook County Board president's office)
Dr. Stephen Cina, a Florida pathologist, was tapped to become Cook County's new medical examiner.

Cook County officially has a new medical examiner. 

The board voted 13-1 on Tuesday to confirm the appointment of Dr. Stephen Cina, a Florida pathologist. Commissioner John Fritchey cast the sole “nay” vote.

Cina will replace Dr. Nancy Jones, who’s set to retire at the end of the month. Jones attracted waves of negative publicity after it was revealed that bodies had been piling up at the county morgue.

The new medical examiner places most of the blame for the scandal on understaffing. The office is short seven assistant medical examiners. Currently, there’s enough money in the budget to hire 12 doctors. Cina said, ideally, he wants 16 doctors. That, he said, would help the office meet accreditation standards for the National Association of Medical Examiners.   

Cina told commissioners that it will take years to fill those vacancies and fix other problems in the office.

That prompted some concern among board members, including Commissioner Joan Murphy.

“How much of a change are we going to see in the next year or two, if it’s going to take several years to fill these positions?” Murphy asked.

Cina offered some short term administrative solutions, including the possibility of skipping full autopsies in cases involving suicide or some traffic accidents. Cina said prioritizing work would help ease the workload until the office hires more staff. Cina also said he wants to improve the office’s technology; he told commissioners that Cook County's office was years behind other medical examiners' offices in which he has worked.

In the meantime, Cina says he’ll try to avoid making headlines.

“Medical examiner is best not seen and not heard, so if I’m flying under the radar, that means I’m doing my job,” Cina said.

Cina will receive a salary of $300,000 a year, roughly $68,000 more than that of Dr. Jones. The board also recently passed a measure ensuring Cina will serve a five-year term, as opposed to simply finishing out Jones’ term.

Cina said he will formerly step down from his current position as the associate medical director and chief administrative officer of the University of Miami’s Tissue Bank. He will begin his new position the first week of September. The board approved Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, currently an assistant medical examiner with the county, as the interim head in the meantime.

From 2007 to 2011, he served as deputy chief medical examiner for Broward County, Florida. Prior to that, he was vice chair and chair of pathology for four years at McKee Medical Center in Loveland, Colorado. During that same period, he served as coroner and medical examiner for Weld County, Colorado.

Cina contacted Cook County officials about the position. County officials say they selected Cina after interviewing three doctors for the position. Some commissioners said Cina must be ready for the political aspects of the job. 

Cina said he’s “looking forward to the challenge.” 

“Florida politics is not trivial, so I have been exposed to that,” Cina said but added, “Cook County is legendary.”