Race for coroner fo­cuses on morgue

Bat­tle forWill County of­fice high­lights the need for new fa­cil­ity

Daily Southtown - - Front Page - By Ali­cia Fab­bre

The need for a larger morgue has never been­more ev­i­dent than in re­cent months when the Will County coroner’s of­fice dealt with theCOVID-19 pan­demic.

In­terim Coroner Lau­rie Sum­mers said she saw the need for a new morgue al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter start­ing her role as a deputy coroner last year and has pledged to make that a pri­or­ity if elected Nov. 3.

Sum­mers, a Crete Demo­crat, and Jim Pi­a­cen­tini, a Repub­li­can from Ste­ger, are vy­ing for the of­fice.

Sum­mers,

62, has 25 years ex­pe­ri­ence as a reg­is­tered nurse and com­pleted var­i­ous train­ing since be­com­ing deputy chief coroner last year.

She said that she of­ten re­sponds to calls as well and talks with fam­ily mem­bers who have lost a loved one.

Pi­a­cen­tini,

67, draws on his more than 40 years ex­pe­ri­ence as a part-time fire­fighter and a phar­macy tech­ni­cian as well as more than 35 years as an emer­gency med­i­cal tech­ni­cian. As a fire­fighter, he also has used his pho­tog­ra­phy skills to aid in fire in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Sum­mers said the county’s ex­ist­ing morgue is too small and does not pro­vide ad­e­quate work space. She­would like to see a new morgue with ad­di­tional cooler space for bod­ies and a sep­a­rate break room and work area for deputy coroners.

Pi­a­cen­tini said he would need to study the is­sue to de­ter­mine if there is a need for a new morgue.

TheWill County Board Ex­ec­u­tive Com­mit­tee be­gan dis­cus­sions Thurs­day about po­ten­tially us­ing va­cant land at the county’s pub­lic

safety com­plex off Lar­away Road to build a morgue. Sum­mers sug­gested fund­ing could come from the fed­eral CARES Act, which pro­vides dol­lars to re­im­burse lo­cal agen­cies for COVID-19 re­lated ex­penses.

The ex­ist­ing morgue, built in 2002, pro­vides enough cooler space to hold 12 to 14 bod­ies, Sum­mers said. The coroner’s of­fice ac­quired a tem­po­rary morgue, set up out­side the main morgue, to deal with COVID-19 re­lated deaths.

“We need to ex­pand our morgue,” she said. “We need more stor­age room for cool­ers … we need to plan for the fu­ture and the next pan­demic.”

Pi­a­cen­tini ques­tioned the county and state’s re­port­ing of COVID-19 re­lated deaths and in­fec­tion rates claim­ing the num­bers are im­prop­erly in­flated.

“There’s peo­ple out there blam­ing every­thing on COVID,” Pi­a­cen­tini said. “I just think it’s not right to blame it all on that.”

TheWill County Health De­part­ment has tab­u­lated county deaths re­lated to COVID-19. Pi­a­cen­tini said he would work to en­sure that COVID-19 re­lated deaths are re­ported ac­cu­rately.

Sum­mers said the coroner’s of­fice has not taken ju­ris­dic­tion and has left death de­ter­mi­na­tions up to hos­pi­tal doc­tors or nurs­ing home of­fi­cials.

Pi­a­cen­tini said his fo­cus would to make the coroner more vis­i­ble in thecom­mu­nity. Pi­a­cen­tini, who serves as a Crete Town­ship trustee, said he would re­spond to death calls per­son­ally and would use his ex­pe­ri­ence as a paramedic and foren­sic pho­tog­ra­pher to aid in death in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

“My one main goal is to make my­self vis­i­ble to the peo­ple,” Pi­a­cen­tini said.

He also said he in­tends to re­tain his role as a Crete Town­ship trustee, a role that pays about $400 a month, if elected coroner.

Both Pi­a­cen­tini and Sum­mers said they would like to add deputy coroners to cover the east­ern por­tion of Will County. Both said that at times it can take deputy coroners an hour or more to re­spond to calls in that por­tion of the county.

Sum­mers said she would like to hire twom­ore deputy coroners to al­low for three deputy coroners per shift. Sum­mers also sug­gested hav­ing a coroner’s van in that sec­tion of the county to bet­ter re­spond to calls.

Long­time Coroner Pa­trick O’Neil, a Demo­crat, an­nounced in De­cem­ber he would not seek an eighth term and backed Sum­mers, who in 2019 stepped down from the county board to be­come chief deputy coroner. She has been serv­ing as in­terim coroner since O’Neil’s re­cent re­tire­ment.

Pi­a­cen­tini

Sum­mers

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