Since he took office as Cook County’s chief medical examiner two and a half years ago, Dr. Stephen Cina says the most important addition he’s made isn’t any of the high-tech new equipment or improved facilities.
Nor is it the computerized case-management system that replaced paper logbooks to keep track of the 5,000 bodies a year that come through the Robert J. Stein Institute of Forensic Medicine at 2121 W. Harrison on the Near West Side.
It’s more doctors.
When he arrived in September 2012 from Florida to replace Dr. Nancy Jones, who resigned under fire in the wake of a scandal over bodies piling up in the M.E.’s office and a loss of accreditation, the county agency had six doctors.
Today, there are 14, including Cina and a post-graduate fellow in forensic pathology who has completed his medical residency and is in his final year of specialized training.
The fellowship ends July 1, when Cina says two forensic pathologist vacancies will be filled. Three new fellowships are slated to be added by 2016, which would bring the office up to 18 doctors.
In 2012, there were as few as two forensic pathologists on duty at any time. Now, it’s usually five.
More doctors means more autopsies. In 2012, the medical examiner’s office performed autopsies on 42 percent of the bodies it received. The autopsy rate is now up to 63 percent. By 2016, Cina is aiming for an autopsy rate of nearly 70 percent
His reasoning: Doing more autopsies helps ensure a more accurate reckoning of the cause and manner of death — information that can help the police determine whether a crime was committed and, if so, help solve it.
It also can provide insights, Cina says, into problems the police and other authorities need to be aware of — say, if there was a spike in the number of deaths from overdoses of tainted heroin in one area, that would be information his office would pass along to the police.
Cina says he’s pleased with the changes and with the provisional accreditation his agency has gotten from the National Association of Medical Examiners.
“Once we fully staff out and once we integrate a few more things, we will be the best place in the country,” says Cina, a former deputy medical examiner in Broward County, Florida.
Dr. Stephen Cina, the chief Cook County medical examiner, with officials including, to the immediate right of Cina in the photot, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in February 2014. | Sun-Times file photo
Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, who pushed Cina’s predecessor out the door and has increased county funding to the agency, also says she’s happy with the results so far.
“We brought Dr. Cina to Cook County to help turn around an office that had been in crisis,” Preckwinkle says. “Thanks to his leadership and the hard work of his team, we are well on our way to making the medical examiner’s office a national model.”
EXAMINING CHICAGO DEATHS
• In Chicago, nearly 90 percent of all homicides in 2014 were the result of shootings and about 6 percent from stab wounds, according to Cook County medical examiner’s office findings.
• The No. 1 cause of shooting deaths was multiple gunshot wounds — 47 percent of the cases.
• Among the shooting victims, the second-most common cause was a gunshot wound to the head, followed by a chest wound.