Preckwinkle to meet with worried ministers about morgue mess
Bodies on top of bodies sit stacked in the Cook County Medical Examiner's Office.
Updated: January 30, 2012 9:35PM
Chicago-area ministers want a voice in the planned overhaul of the troubled Cook County morgue and are asking to meet with board President Toni Preckwinkle.
“If you don’t hold people’s feet to the fire, the problems don’t go away,” the Rev. Ira Acree said on Monday.
Asked whose feet need to be held to the fire, Acree said “President Preckwinkle; the medical examiner, Nancy Jones; the people in charge.”
Acree and a group of other ministers want to talk with Preckwinkle about setting up an advisory panel of ministers, citizens and experts in the medical examiner field to discuss not only changes needed now, but to meet a few times annually with the board president to go over any future issues that arise.
For at least a month now, staff at the morgue have complained that the corpse cooler at the West Side facility is beyond the 300-body capacity.
Morgue employees told the Sun-Times earlier this month there were so many bodies that the storage trays were full and in some cases had more than one body on them. The rest had been stacked on top of one another in plastic tarps against a wall of a storage cooler — which one source in the morgue called “sacrilegious.”
Last week, Preckwinkle called a news conference to announce that staffers would likely lose their jobs as a result of multiple internal probes there and that new policies would be in place — from daily checks on the cooler to more timely burials.
Staff also complained about bodily fluids pooling on the floor of the cooler, exposing employees to blood-born pathogens. The Illinois Department of Labor has launched its own investigation of workplace safety at the morgue.
Preckwinkle and Jones have blamed budget woes on the pile-up of bodies there. Last year the state slashed funding for funerals and burials of those who were on public aid. That funding has been restored.
But Preckwinkle also blamed management.
A Preckwinkle spokeswoman said Monday the board president would meet with with the ministers in the coming days.
Asked what he hopes to achieve with the meeting, Acree said: “I think moving forward, I think it’s important that the Cook County medical examiner’s office has its credibilty restored so that when people die in Cook County — that the ultimate respect for the dead is given by this office.”