Cook County's Medical Examiner to step down amid morgue scandal
Cook County's Medical Examiner will step down and several other workers have been fired following grisly revelations of overcrowding at the county morgue, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced Tuesday.
Preckwinkle steered clear of saying whether she asked the medical examiner, Dr. Nancy Jones, to resign at the end of July. But she was more candid about the five other people who were fired, including Kimberly Jackson, who oversaw the county's troubled indigent burials.
"We have made, and will continue to make, a number of personnel changes in the Medical Examiners Office," Preckwinkle said.
Daryl Jackson, a former state health official, will lead the office as its new executive officer while the county launches a national search for Jones' replacement, Preckwinkle said.
Tuesday's announcement follows months of scandal and promises of reform in the Cook County Medical Examiners Office. In January the Chicago Sun-Times reported that a county morgue cooler designed to store 300 bodies was holding 363 at one point late last year. Some of the bodies were said to be stacked on top of each other.
But overcrowding wasn't the only problem, said county Chief Administrative Officer Robin Kelly, who has been assigned to monitor the Medical Examiners Office.
"Some of the staff that were there weren't doing their jobs," Kelly said. "The state funding dried up, so the bodies weren't, um, being picked up and that led to the overcrowding."
Preckwinkle's administration has been in contact with state lawmakers to make sure state funding for indigent burials keeps flowing, she said.
In addition to the staff shakeups, Preckwinkle's administration announced several other changes to the office, including a new rack system for the morgue's cooler, tighter security and disease testing for morgue workers.
At the time, Jones blamed the overcrowding on the state funding cut. But at press conference announcing an overhaul of the Medical Examiners Office in late January, Preckwinkle suggested the department was being mismanaged, though she stopped short of calling for Jones' ouster.
The overcrowding also prompted the Cook County Board of Commissioners to impose new regulations at the morgue. Commissioners also approved a five-year term limit for the medical examiner, and drafted new rules making it easier to fire someone from the post.
When asked repeatedly on Tuesday whether she asked for Jones' resignation, Preckwinkle side-stepped the question.
"Dr. Jones chose to retire July 31st," the president said.