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Pick for new medical examiner: 'It will take time' to make morgue more professional

Tuesday, July 24, 2012
Chicago Tribune
by John Byrne

Florida pathologist Dr. Stephen Cina told Cook County commissioners today that he is excited to take over the troubled Cook County morgue, but that it will take time and help to turn things around at the facility.

Cina's nomination to succeed Dr. Nancy Jones as head of the morgue was approved today by the County Board.

In opening remarks at his confirmation hearing, Cina noted others in his field wondered why he wanted to work in Cook County, since the position "is widely viewed as incredibly challenging in the medical examiner community."

But Cina said he looks forward to the challenge of improving the office's standing by overseeing the hiring of more pathologists, and improving the technology and equipment in the office.

Cina will replace Jones, whose resignation is effective at month's end. Jones faced criticism over employee complaints that bodies were stacking up in the morgue's cooler and for various administrative problems at the West Side facility, 2121 W. Harrison St.

Cina will make $300,000 in his new post — $68,000 per year more than Jones was paid. He will be allowed to continue to do outside consulting work — he commands $400 an hour — though officials said he will need to comply with county rules and make sure it does not interfere with his official duties. Jones also did some outside paid work.

Commissioners also voted recently to change the ordinance governing the hiring of new medical examiners so that Cina will serve a full five-year term before he again needs board approval to stay in the post, rather than merely completing the remainder of Jones' term. Cina said today that "it will take time" to improve the professionalism at the morgue to the level he expects.

Commissioner John Fritchey, D-Chicago, expressed frustration today that board members found out about Cina only when Preckwinkle nominated him for the post. And Cina has held several positions over the past decade, Fritchey pointed out, wondering why he would need a guaranteed five-year term.

Cina was approved by a 13-1 vote, with Fritchey casting the sole vote against. Commissioner William Beavers, D-Chicago, voted "present."

Cina is currently associate medical director and chief administrative officer of the University of Miami Tissue Bank, and said he will not be able to take over in Cook County until Sept. 10.

Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, an assistant Cook County medical examiner, will serve as the interim medical examiner until Cina takes over.



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