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Cook County agrees to pricier burial contract

Tuesday, October 02, 2012
Chicago Tribune
by John Byrne

Cook County commissioners today approved a new, more expensive contract to have the bodies of poor people buried in the same south suburban cemetery that was criticized for stacking remains and leaving about a dozen caskets sitting in a chapel for days.

Homewood Memorial Gardens Cemetery will charge the county $474 per body to conduct indigent burials under the deal, which runs till October 2014, compared to $289 each under the former pact.

The new contract comes despite the fact county officials have had Homewood Memorial Gardens in their crosshairs for nearly two years. Sheriff Tom Dart slammed the “appalling” conditions of the indigent burials there in early 2011, when he said the bodies of as many as 26 babies had been buried in a single casket along with unidentified limbs and bones.

In April, sheriff’s investigators supervised the burial of 11 caskets found in the back room of a chapel on the grounds.

But Homewood will get another deal with the county because it was the lowest bidder to meet contract specifications, new Medical Examiner Dr. Stephen Cina told commissioners.

The cemetery has made improvements, including setting aside a special area for the remains of fetuses, Cina said.

“In the board meeting, it was brought up there was a history of some, perhaps, incidents with this cemetery, but those have been addressed,” Cina said.

“I was out there at 7 a.m. last Friday, doing a tour and looking at the facility myself,” Cina added. “I found the area we now have under contract for where our indigent, unidentified and fetal remains are going to go to be a very nice place where I would be happy to have my family buried.”

Homewood Memorial Gardens can make up to $711,000 under the terms of the deal, though Cina said he doesn’t expect the county will come close to needing that many burials.

The new contract replaces the former contract with Homewood Memorial Gardens, which would have run through February. It will be more expensive for each burial because of new standards prohibiting the stacking of bodies atop one another and establishing specific distances between burial plots.

An Indiana cemetery submitted a plan that would have cost about 40 percent less, but a provision states the burials must take place in Cook County.

Commissioner John Fritchey, D-Chicago, one of three members of the board to vote against the new Homewood contract, urged his colleagues to slow down. 

“Whether or not it is prudent for a number of reasons to have the cemetery located in Cook County is something that should be subject to debate by this board,” Fritchey said.

But in the end, 11 commissioners voted in favor of a new deal for Homewood.


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