Cook County medical examiner retires, four fired
Months after the Cook County medical examiner's office came under intense criticism for allowing the corpses of the indigent to pile up, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced Tuesday the retirement of Chief Medical Examiner Nancy Jones, effective July 31.
Preckwinkle, who had intervened in the office when the criticism first came to light but said she lacked the power to fire Jones, wouldn't comment on whether Jones had been asked to retire.
"Dr. Jones chose to resign effective July 31," she said at a news conference. "I'm very grateful for Dr. Jones' 26 years of service to Cook County. From all reports, she is a very competent pathologist."
She added that she hopes to work with Jones going forward on the training of graduate pathology students.
Preckwinkle also announced the firing of four workers and the disciplining of eight others, along with policy changes for the office.
"We will continue to make a number of personnel changes in the medical examiner's office," she said. "For a considerable period, the office was not fully staffed. We think we are bringing on board a very talented team."
Eight longtime vacancies in the department have been filled, which should significantly improve functioning of the office, she said.
"It's very hard to run an office when you are short-staffed," Preckwinkle said.
The county will conduct a nationwide search for Jones' successor and fill the post as quickly as possible. The new chief medical examiner's term would be restricted to five years as determined by the county board in March, Preckwinkle said.
Daryl Jackson, who has worked with the Illinois Department of Public Health for 20 years, was appointed the medical examiner's new executive officer, replacing Kimberly Jackson. Kimberly Jackson, not related to Daryl, was asked to resign, effective July 13, officials said.
"We are confident that Mr. Jackson's extensive experience in the field of public health management will enhance the operation of the medical examiner's office," Preckwinkle said.
Preckwinkle said the biggest problem with the medical examiner's office was its leadership, followed by insufficient staffing.
"From very early on in our review of operations there, we believed that we needed stronger management. (Jones') departure and the hiring of Daryl Jackson addresses that," she said.
Preckwinkle said she is confident that despite the negative publicity, there should be enough interest in the chief medical examiner's job to find a quality candidate.
The county is installing an electronic case management system that will lead to more efficient record-keeping. A new electronic time-keeping system will be in place July 1.
"This administration has been all about improving efficiencies," said Robin Kelly, chief administrative officer of the county. "We will have better trained staff. There will be better customer service. There will be better security."
Kelly said there had been security issues at the medical examiner's office with distressed family members of the deceased. She also stressed that the problem with corpses piling up at the morgue was because the state stopped paying funeral directors who were not picking up the bodies.
"We had about 234 bodies, 96 of which belonged to the state," she said.
Kelly believes the state now has the money in its budget to take care of that problem.
In a related move, the county board at a meeting Tuesday named members of a new medical examiner advisory committee to oversee the improvements.
Retirement: County will conduct national search for next medical examiner