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Cook County medical examiner retiring amid morgue mess

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Nancy Jones. FILE PHOTO

Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Nancy Jones. FILE PHOTO

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Updated: July 20, 2012 6:29AM

A national search is on to replace beleaguered Cook County Medical Examiner Nancy Jones, who offered a “letter of resignation” and will retire at the end of July after months on the hot seat over complaints of bodies piling up at the county morgue she managed, County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced Tuesday.

“I am very grateful for Dr. Jones’ 26 years of service to the county,” Preckwinkle told reporters as she announced Jones’ retirement and other changes coming down the pike at the West Side facility. “From all reports she is a very fine pathologist and we hope to work with her going forward after her resignation around some of our graduate (student) training issues.”

But Preckwinkle wasn’t offering any roses for Jones’s management of the office.

Asked several times about whether she called for Jones to step down, Preckwinkle offered only a simple refrain: “Dr. Jones chose to resign July 31.”

Sources tell the Sun-Times her departure was hastened by the problems there.

Sources say Jones had been considering  retirement since January, when the paper first revealed the problems that one morgue staffer described as “sacrilegious.”

Preckwinkle — whose office oversees operations at the morgue — has blasted management there.

When the problems were revealed, Preckwinkle dispatched her top aides to investigate and soon called for an overhaul of operations to ensure the delay in indigent burials — one of the problems causing the crowded conditions —  were scheduled more regularly and that the body cooler was checked for cleanliness.

At the time, Jones said the 300-capacity cooler was overloaded because of  financial woes — namely the state curbing funding that covered the costs of burying the poor. That funding has been restored. Preckwinkle agreed, but still cited management problems.

In the meantime, the county’s independent inspector general also launched a probe, as did the state’s labor department after complaints were made about working conditions at the morgue, 2121 W. Harrison.  The inspector general’s findings could be released in a report as soon as this week, sources say.

In the days after the newspaper reported the crowding issues and staff complaints about bodily fluids pooling on the floor of the cooler — a health hazard — a stiff-lipped Preckwinkle pointed the finger at Jones.

“There have been recurring problems there, that’s quite true,” Preckwinkle told reporters in January. “My ability to deal with it is limited by the fact that the person who is in charge of it has a term of office as opposed to serving at my pleasure.”

She meant that Jones wasn’t a political appointee who Preckwinkle could discipline or fire.

Despite that, Jones and Kimberly Jackson, whom county payroll records list as a morgue executive officer, remained on in their positions – until now. Jackson’s profile shows she’s in charge of indigent burials.

In addition to Jones stepping down, Jackson will be “replaced,” multiple sources tell the Sun-Times.

Preckwinkle’s office issued an alert for a Tuesday conference. It promised an overhaul and shake up of the office, but provided no details.

Jones and Jackson could not be reached for comment.

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