CHICAGO | The Cook County medical examiner’s office soon will have new leadership. But the conditions under which the corpses of indigent people are buried by the county will not change any time soon.
County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Tuesday announced the retirements of Medical Examiner Nancy Jones as of July 31, and administrator Kimberly Jackson on July 13.
The two were among those who were criticized earlier this year when it became publicly known that a backlog of bodies was building at the medical examiner’s office. That backlog since has been whittled down considerably.
Jackson will be replaced by Daryl Jackson, formerly of the Illinois Department of Public Health. A national search for Jones’ replacement will begin immediately.
But the conditions involving indigent burials has county officials wondering how they should handle the situation. As of Tuesday, there were 234 bodies at the medical examiner’s office – although 96 eventually will be buried at state expense and the others who were military veterans will have their burials covered by the federal government.
One commissioner, John Fritchey, D-Chicago, had suggested moving away from contracting with Homewood Memorial Gardens in the south suburb and having the county develop its own cemetery on 5 acres of land it already owns near Oak Forest Hospital.
That idea was overwhelmingly squashed on Tuesday. The Cook County Board was so overwhelmingly opposed that Fritchey did not even push for a vote to be taken on his request for a study of the idea.
“I know how to count votes. I don’t expect this to pass,” said Fritchey, who said he likes the idea of the county having control over the cemetery, which he claims would provide adequate burial space for Cook County for the next century.
But Commissioner Joan Patricia Murphy, D-Crestwood, whose district includes the site, said she hates the idea of a cemetery there.
“I think there are better uses for development of that site (at 159th Street and Cicero Avenue),” she said. “I don’t consider a cemetery to be an asset for the surrounding community.”
She also disagreed with Fritchey’s premise that it would be better for the county to own its own cemetery for indigent burials. “I don’t believe we’re in the cemetery business, nor do I think we should be,” she said.
One idea supported by several commissioners, including Deborah Sims, is that the county ought to look into cremation to handle the bodies of indigent people whose families either can’t be found, or who cannot afford to pay for a funeral.
But Commissioner Peter Silvestri, R-Elmwood Park, said county officials should look into agreements with various Chicago area cemeteries to bury indigents at various sites.