Cook County Commissioners and officials from the Medical Examiner’s office gathered to announce the office achieved full National Association of Medical Examiners (NAME) accreditation, what Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cina called “the big prize”, years after the office was mired in scandal.  

Board President Toni Preckwinkle appointed Cina to the ME’s post in July 2012 to replace Dr. Nancy Jones, who announced her retirement after a series of bad headlines describing bodies piled up in the morgue’s coolers and poor administrative control. Preckwinkle brought Cina on during an overhaul of the department that included the firing of four, the disciplining of eight, and a new Executive Director, Daryl Jackson. She entrusted Cina with “reshap[ing] the Medical Examiner’s Office into a model facility.”

According to the Tribune, Cina approached the County, saying he was interested in righting the ship. He was previously associate medical director and chief administrative officer of the University of Miami’s Tissue Bank, Medical Examiner for Broward County, and well-versed in the politics of the job, telling commissioners at his confirmation, “Florida politics is not trivial, so I have been exposed to that… Cook County is legendary.” After that staffing sweep, Comm. John Fritchey warned that turning around the ME’s office would fall squarely on President Preckwinkle’s shoulders.

Cina got a roughly $70k pay bump, an extended, five-year appointment, and a promise he could fill five vacancies and add three more medical positions. At the time, he was one of the highest paid ME’s in the country, making $300,000 a year.

He made staffing a priority at the outset, and thanked Preckwinkle and commissioners Tuesday for dedicating resources to turning around the office. The County has ramped up its spending on the morgue since Cina’s appointment, from $6.8 million in FY12 to about $11 million planned in FY16. In that time, commissioners have approved fee hikes for services like storage and cremation at the morgue. Spending has gone toward the beefed up staffing Cina called for, renovated “state-of-the-art coolers” ($1.4 million) and a “cutting-edge, cloud-based case management system” for tracking decedents ($900,000).

Other improvements include emergency preparedness, rehabbed policies and procedures, and increased staffing capabilities to handle more death scenes and process multiple shooting victims. “If a [shooting victim] hits the doors by 6 am, the family can claim that decedent by the end of the day,” Cina told reporters.

When he entered the office, Cina said, it had 27 deficiencies under the NAME requirements, but he won’t allow the office to lose the title under his watch.

The morgue will be up for review annually each January. Aside from prestige, the NAME-certified designation means more open doors for grant and fellowship money.