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Cook County Medical Examiner's Office now 'national leader'

A toxicologist tests blood samples at the Cook County Medical Examiner's office. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

With considerable fanfare, Cook County officials Tuesday declared the medical examiner’s office a “national leader” — four years after the Chicago Sun-Times reported that hundreds of bodies were piling up in the morgue.

“We want this office, which last year handled more than 5,000 cases and performed nearly 3,000 autopsies, to be one that the taxpayers can be proud of,” Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle said.

Preckwinkle stood on a stage in the basement of the medical examiner’s office, supervised by Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen J. Cina, surrounded by various dignitaries and staff from the office. On stage was a framed certificate showing that the office is now fully accredited for the first time since 2011.

“Perhaps most importantly, it should serve as an assurance to those whose loved ones passed through the medical examiner’s office that the deceased are treated with dignity and care and respect,” Preckwinkle said.

Four years ago, the Chicago Sun-Times detailed appalling conditions at the morgue on Chicago’s West Side, including bodies stacked on top of each other beneath blue tarps.

Full accreditation by the National Association of Medical Examiners means the office has “met or exceeds national standards in key areas of operations, staffing and procedures,” according to Cook County officials.

Among other things, the office has since completed a $1.4 million cooler rehab project; brought in “top-flight” staff; and now has a “cutting-edge” cloud-based case management system that tracks bodies from the moment they’re brought to the facility to when they are released to a funeral home.

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announces on Tuesday that the medical examiner’s office was awarded full accreditation for the first time since 2011. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Chief Cook County Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cina discusses the office’s accreditation. | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times