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Minnesota board suspends license of Clay County Jail's doctor

The Minnesota Board of Medical Practice has suspended the license of Dr. Todd Leonard, whose company has contracts with dozens of jails in the region. The company came under scrutiny in 2016, after a 19-year-old inmate at the Clay County Jail died while under its care.

Clay County Jail Maple Unit cell
A cell at the Clay County Jail in Moorhead.
Forum file photo
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MOORHEAD — A doctor whose company is contracted to provide medical care to inmates at the Clay County Jail has lost his medical license.

The state medical board has indefinitely suspended the license of Dr. Todd Leonard, who owns MEnD Correctional Care in Sartell, Minnesota.

The company, which contracts for medical services with dozens of jails across Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, had been under scrutiny over the death of 19-year-old Abby Rudolph at the Clay County facility in 2016, and more recently, over an inmate’s death at the Beltrami County Jail in Bemidji.

Hardel Sherrell, 27, died in 2018 after his pleas for help went unanswered by jail and medical staff.

In its Jan. 21 decision, the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice found Leonard demonstrated a willful or careless disregard for the health, welfare or safety of the patient, whom it did not name.

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It’s not known whether Rudolph’s death was a factor in the decision to suspend Leonard’s license. A board spokesperson told The Forum it was unable to respond to that specific question.

Abby Rudolph.jpg
Abby Rudolph

Abby Rudolph’s mother, Jill Rudolph, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in U.S. District Court against MEnD and Clay County in early 2018.

The suit described the lack of medical care for Abby Rudolph as something that shocks “the conscience.”

Jill Rudolph died a few months later due to a medical condition officially, but her brother, Craig Casler, maintains grief was a major factor.

Casler, of Glyndon, Minnesota, became the plaintiff listed in the lawsuit that has since been settled. Casler said he isn’t at liberty to discuss the terms of the settlement.

Reacting to the recent license suspension, Casler said his issue wasn’t so much with the doctor but with staff of the Clay County Jail, where his niece died while withdrawing from opioids and other drugs.

The lawsuit alleged that over the course of several days in jail after her arrest for shoplifting, Rudolph received no treatment, other than being put on a liquid diet and did not see a doctor at any point while incarcerated. She suffered persistent vomiting, diarrhea and a possible seizure, the suit alleged.

“She was almost dead by the time she was referred to the nurse,” Casler said.

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Rudolph’s official cause of death was listed as acute bronchopneumonia with aspiration.

By contrast, a state agency's review of the Clay County Jail after Rudolph's death determined that the jail had displayed professionalism and treated Rudolph with compassion.

Casler said government officials have an obligation to ensure proper medical care for anyone who’s incarcerated and has a drug addiction.

He said medical care in jails should be provided by counties, not an outside party.

“They shouldn’t be able to contract this out … pawn their responsibility off somewhere else,” Casler said.

The Minnesota Nurses Association, among others, has spoken out against MEnD Correctional Care.

In November 2021, members gathered outside the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice Office in St. Paul, calling on counties to stop using MEnD to staff their jails.

As for Clay County, Sheriff Mark Empting said they’re still tied to MEnD until sometime this summer, but that contract will be reviewed.

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He said nursing staff and medical technicians from MEnD work at the jail, but he wasn’t sure how many, and an interim doctor of the company has been named.

“We are not without a doctor,” Empting said.

A request for comment from MEnD on Thursday, Jan. 27, was not returned in time for publication of this story.

Empting confirmed that Clay County Jail Administrator Justin Roberts resigned unexpectedly last week after holding the position for about six months. Roberts had taken over for longtime jail administrator Julie Savat, who retired.

Roberts' departure was not under negative circumstances, Empting said. In the interim, Assistant Administrator Kari Tuton will serve in that capacity, the sheriff said.

Hardel Sherrell
Hardel Sherrell

Regarding the license suspension of Dr. Todd Leonard, the medical board found during a hearing on Hardel Sherrell’s death last July that Leonard failed to meet minimal standards of acceptable medical practice by not having his staff assess Sherrell and get vital signs in the days before he died, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

Leonard’s suspension takes effect March 1, and he also must pay a $30,000 civil penalty. He can petition the board to remove the suspension in six months, according to MPR.

In a statement sent by his attorney, Leonard said he is “profoundly saddened and disappointed” by the board’s decision.

“This death was a tragedy, but to my core I believe our care was appropriate, especially given the incredibly rare nature of this patient’s condition,” Leonard said.

A medical examiner found Sherrell died of pneumonia and brain swelling, but a private autopsy revealed he was suffering from a rare but treatable condition called Guillain-Barre syndrome, KARE 11 reported.

A federal grand jury is investigating Sherrell’s death for possible criminal charges, KARE 11 reported .

Related Topics: CRIME AND COURTSCLAY COUNTY
Huebner is a 35+ year veteran of broadcast and print journalism in Fargo-Moorhead.
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