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Funeral Director: Conditions At Cook County Morgue Are 'Horrendous'

CHICAGO (CBS) -- "Horrendous" is how one funeral director describes conditions inside the Cook County Medical Examiner's cooler.

As WBBM Newsradio's Steve Miller reports, the funeral director says a cooler that was supposed to be used for decomposed bodies broke down, and with no money to fix it, the bodies of the recently deceased were placed along with the severely decomposed bodies.

LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio's Steve Miller reports


"The odors down there are horrendous," he says.

The funeral director asked that we not identify him because he still deals with the Medical Examiner's office.

Recently, the funeral director arrived at the Medical Examiner's office recently to pick up a body.

"They brought out a body," he tells WBBM Newsradio. "It was 400 pounds and decomposed, in three inches of liquid. And I said, 'Now what do you want me to do with this?' And everybody disappeared.

"So," he says, "I went to administration and they took care of it, but you shouldn't have to ask."

The funeral director says the deceased should be treated with more dignity.

"Here's the largest county's medical examiner's (office)," he says, "and it's the lowest amount of dignity. These are still people. These are not just bodies. And to them it seems it's just bodies."

The funeral director says conditions have been bad for decades, but he adds that now, the employees are better than they had been.

"They're not yelling at you and calling you names," he says.

Cook County Board President Tony Preckwinkle says she's permanently detailed a senior staffer to the medical examiner's office, with an eye to reducing the backlog of unburied bodies.

Preckwinkle acknowledged state cuts in assistance for indigent burials but said that's only part of the problem.

Asked if she thinks better management could reduce the backlog of bodies in the medical examiner's office, Preckwinkle said, "Yes."

Asked if Cook County needs a new medical examiner, Preckwinkle paused a full five seconds and said: "I've previously expressed concerns about management in this office, and I think I'll leave it at that."

WBBM Newsradio was not able to reach Medical Examiner Dr. Nancy Jones for comment. But she said last week that a recent rise in the number of bodies at the morgue has happened, in part, because the State of Illinois has slashed aid to help pay for burials, the Sun-Times Media Wire reported.

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