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Preckwinkle: Wrong to write that I am ‘watering down’ medical examiner’s work

Tuesday, June 26, 2018
Chicago Sun-Times
by County Board President Toni Preckwinkle

A Sun-Times editorial on Monday that asserts I am trying to water down an ordinance that governs the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office is wrong. Let me correct the record.

 First, we’re strengthening our ordinance so that those who must report deaths to the Medical Examiner’s Office — including police — do so immediately. 

The staff at the medical examiner’s office can’t do their job if they don’t know about those deaths in a timely manner. Second, you don’t seem to understand what the medical examiner investigators do. They do not solve crimes. They do not make arrests or bring charges. They are the eyes and ears of a forensic pathologist and obtain information that would help in determining the cause and manner of death. SEND LETTERS TO: 

Please include your neighborhood or hometown and a phone number for verification purposes. We have tried to explain in the past that not every death requires a scene investigation. 

good example is the tragic death of journalist Elizabeth Brackett, which became a medical examiner case. She passed away almost a week after her bicycle accident. By that time, a scene investigation would have been meaningless and would not have provided any information needed for the office to make its cause and manner ruling. 

There are more than 40,000 deaths in Cook County every year. A scene investigation for each of those deaths would require a staff of more than 320 investigators — or $35 million just for staff salaries. To put this in perspective, the office’s entire budget for FY18 is approximately $14 million. 

Every death that is the responsibility of the medical examiner does get an investigation — a medical investigation. The forensic pathologists — not the investigators — are the persons who determine the cause and manner of death in cases under the medical examiner’s jurisdiction, and they use their medical and forensic training to do so. 

We have repeatedly tried to explain this to your reporters but regrettably, they — and now the editorial board — have ignored this important distinction. 

Third, you make light of the financial challenges Cook County faces, yet you failed to support increased revenue that could fund current operations and enhance programs. 

The residents of Cook County and your newspaper demanded that we step away from our revenue request for the current fiscal year and instead, hold the line on spending. 

And we did, though we cautioned at the time doing so would impact our ability to fund new or existing services. Under my administration, and with the leadership of Chief Medical Examiner Dr. Ponni Arunkumar, visits to scenes have increased 120 percent since 2014. Professional standards have been raised, the facility has been modernized and the office has attained and maintained accreditation from the National Association of Medical Examiners, which had been lost under the previous administration. Fixing the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office has been a priority of my administration after years of neglect and mismanagement by my predecessor. I believe that under the current leadership of Dr. Arunkumar, the office continues to be a leader among the medico-legal community nationwide.  

-Toni Preckwinkle President Cook County Board of Commissioners

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