President Preckwinkle and Department of Labor partner to resolve existing concerns within Medical Examiner’s Office
For several weeks, Cook County has partnered with the DOL to correct 21 violations cited in the facility. The DOL’s investigation of the ME’s office occurred during the same time the county was conducting its own internal investigation.
The President’s Bureau of Administration, which oversees the ME’s Office, has been working with Cook County Health & Hospitals System and several departments and agencies across the county to make all the corrections necessary to ensure a safe work environment.
“We appreciate the efforts of the Department of Labor inspectors who brought these violations to our attention,” President Preckwinkle said. “We are working and will continue to work with the DOL to address the problems and comply with government standards. We have already made significant headway in correcting some of the violations, and we expect to resolve the rest as soon as possible.”
In response to the citations, doctors and safety officials from Cook County Health and Hospitals System are developing a comprehensive safety policy and procedures manual. Medical Examiner employees last week were tested and inoculated for Hepatitis B, and more testing is scheduled next week for other infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. And Dr. Sharon Welbel of CCHHS will soon begin training employees on techniques to protect against exposure to bloodborne pathogens.
County officials are meeting next week with the Department of Labor for a formal consultation on rectifying the citations, 15 of which are considered serious. President Preckwinkle received a certified letter from the DOL Thursday afternoon informing her of the violations. However, county officials initially learned of the violations during a closed conference in early June, and since then, have been working in partnership with the DOL to correct them. A copy of the report was also sent to the Medical Examiner’s Office and posted on Thursday.
“The violations are symptomatic of a culture that was allowed to go unchecked in the past,” President Preckwinkle said. “But we’ve addressed the concerns head on. We’ve made changes in top management, terminated four employees and disciplined seven others. We’ve also hired nine new employees, including a new director of operations with two decades of experience in public health management. Now we’ll work with the DOL and Cook County Hospital to correct these violations and move forward to create a first-rate Medical Examiner’s Office.”
President Preckwinkle said a few of the violations, such as the replacement of the cooler racking system, will require more time to correct because the project must be completed in phases.
“I have committed the necessary resources in the budget for improvements to the ME’s office, including full staffing levels and equipment upgrades,” Preckwinkle said. “The hiring freeze I announced this week specifically exempted the ME’s office.”
Other violations cited by the DOL have already been corrected. A Bloodborne Pathogen Exposure Plan has been updated and posted in several locations around the ME’s Office. The county is purchasing enhanced protective equipment, including custom-fitted facemasks and impermeable gowns and eye goggles. Dr. Welbel is also training employees on the appropriate decontamination techniques of equipment. And employees who operate the office’s forklift have received training on its appropriate operation.