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Cook County Morgue Overcrowded: Bodies Piling Up Again, Likely Due To Budget Cuts

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Once again, employees at the Cook County Medical Examiner's office say there is an overwhelming number of bodies in the county morgue -- this time, due to financial strains and a new county ordinance.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times, the morgue is at capacity, plus some:

All the storage trays are full, and many have a second body on them, according to sources in the office. Some 400 adults and about 100 babies are currently being kept in the cooler designed for under 300, one source said.

“There are so many bodies in there now, they can’t keep it cool enough. The stench is like nothing I’ve ever seen,” another source in the office said. “I think it’s sacrilegious.”

Medical Examiner Nancy Jones told the paper there were about 300 bodies in the cooler, and said the office has not been able to bury the bodies of babies and fetuses due to a new county ordinance banning mass burials for children.

Last year, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart told the Chicago Tribune that the way the county buries indigent and unidentified people was "appalling." At the time, the ME's office was combining the remains of fetuses and stillborn babies in a single casket.

According to the Tribune, one medical examiner's office employee said the body of a month-old baby who died in 2003 was placed in a casket with the remains of at least 42 others -- "often a combination of babies, fetuses and body parts." Now, the office is required to place each fetus or baby in its own box.

“We haven’t been able to do any infant or fetal burials because we are waiting for some special boxes to be designed and built,” Jones told the Sun-Times. Another source told the paper the boxes aren't available because the ME's office has not been able to pay the company that makes them.

Last January, another report of bodies being double stacked at the morgue came out. At the time, Dr. Jones said it was due to an upswing in deaths around the holidays.

Now, budget issues are more likely the concern. Last year, the state cut funding that previously went to funerals for poor or low-income individuals. The cuts left funeral home owners with few options, as NBC Chicago reported in August of 2011.

"Now the only viable option --- I don't mean to make light of it -- is to leave the body at the medical examiner office," Jonathon Szykowny, owner and director of Szykowny Funeral Home, told NBC. "After 60 to 90 days they'll take the body to what's called a potter's field and bury it in a numbered grave."

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