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Morgue raid: One worker asleep, two watching Bruce Lee movie

The Office Medical Examiner 2121 W. HarrisStreet.   |   Al Podgorski

The Office of the Medical Examiner at 2121 W. Harrison Street. | Al Podgorski

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Updated: November 18, 2012 6:48AM

Cook County’s top watchdog conducted a series of “midnight raids” on the troubled morgue, and one early morning a staffer was found sleeping at her desk while two others were enjoying a Bruce Lee movie.

That’s according to a new report by county Inspector General Patrick Blanchard, whose office conducted the unannounced visits.

The inspection happened in May — months after the Sun-Times first reported crowded and filthy conditions at the Cook County medical examiner’s office. In January, the paper reported about complaints that bodies were piling up in a cooler and bodily fluid was pooling on the floor, creating a health hazard for staffers.

Two investigators with the inspector general’s office arrived at the West Side facility about 2:35 a.m. May 3 to find the intake area, where bodies are brought in, quiet.

“Upon arrival . . . investigators observed one intake attendant sleeping with her head on the desk of her workstation and two other intake attendants watching a Bruce Lee (karate) movie on a county computer,” Blanchard wrote in his report.

The IG, by ordinance is not authorized to release the names of the employees involved.

“When the investigators announced their presence, the sleeping employee raised her head, sat up and turned on her computer while the other two employees turned off the movie and began working,” Blanchard wrote.

Further interviews revealed this wasn’t anything new.

“Subsequent interviews of the subject employees revealed that the conduct observed by . . . investigators on May 3, 2012, was not isolated and that certain intake attendants working the overnight shift routinely watched movies on county computers and certain intake attendants slept or ‘nodded off’ while on duty.”

Investigators also found documents, dating back to 2004, hidden in the intake area that night-shift intake workers were supposed to enter into an electronic data management system.

The inspector general’s office recommended disciplining the three intake employees, including a 20-day suspension and that a manager be assigned to the shift. Bosses at the morgue, which is under County Board President Toni Preckwinkle’s authority, followed some advice, putting a supervisor on that shift, suspending one employee for 25 days and another for five days. No disciplinary action was taken against the third attendant in the intake office, but the matter is pending, according to the report.

Preckwinkle vowed to overhaul the office. In the end, Cook County Medical Examiner Nancy Jones resigned — some believe under pressure — and one of her deputies was fired in July. A Florida pathologist was subsequently hired by Preckwinkle. Dr. Stephen Cina took the reins there last month.

Blanchard’s third quarter report offers of more than a dozen investigations he’s handled, including:

♦ A doctor in the Cook County Health and Hospital System who was off and collecting disability payments ­ — from 2008 through 2009 —while working at a private Chicago-area hospital. The disability payments total $40,747.33 The IG is recommending health system officials fire the doctor, who was not named in the report. The matter is pending. A spokeswoman said the health system doesn’t comment on personnel matters.

♦ A top official in the county’s Environmental Control office who greased the wheels to get his girlfriend promoted to manager, without posting the position as union rules require. Both the manager and the official told IG investigators they were just good friend, during a probe of wrongful hiring practices. But they were later deposed in federal court and admitted to the relationship — evidence they lied to the IG. The manager was suspended for 15 days and the top official was fired.

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