A growing number of Minnesota counties are cutting ties with Sartell-based MEnD Correctional Care, citing concerns over unprovided services and potential legal liability after a state board suspended its owner's medical license.

Anoka County is the latest to drop the correctional facility health care provider and will switch Monday to Tennessee-based Advanced Correctional Healthcare (ACH).

"Anoka County regularly reviews vendors with whom we contract and if found they're failing to fulfill contractual obligations, we evaluate all available options," Erik Thorson, county communications director, said in an e-mail to the Star Tribune.

In January, the Minnesota Board of Medical Practice suspended Dr. Todd Leonard's medical license effective March 1 for "a careless disregard for the health, welfare and safety of his patient."

According to the board, the lapses in care led to the death of Hardel Sherrell, an inmate at Beltrami County jail, in 2018. A wrongful death lawsuit filed by the man's family in federal court is pending.

Leonard did not respond to a request for comment about the counties ending contracts with his company. But in a statement released by his attorney in January after his license was suspended, he said he was "profoundly saddened and disappointed" by the board's decision.

Leonard was also sued by the family of a Sherburne County inmate who died by suicide in 2017; that case was settled in 2021 with the county and MEnD agreeing to pay $2.3 million to the man's family.

MEnD Correctional Care provides health care in more than 30 county jails in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, according to the company's website. At the time of the deaths in Beltrami and Sherburne county jails, Leonard served as chief medical officer for the company. While he is no longer its head doctor, Leonard remains owner and president.

In the past few months, officials in Anoka County and a handful of other Minnesota counties have dropped MEnD Correctional Care in favor of other companies that provide similar services for inmates and detainees.

In February, Morrison County Sheriff Shawn Larsen told the County Board that MEnD's quality of service did not meet the county's criteria. The board approved a contract with ACH that went into effect in May.

"Our first and foremost need in our jails is to take care of our inmates and our staff — and right now our inmates aren't being taken care of the way that they should be," Larsen said. "The contract is not really being followed at this point.

"We pay for services Monday through Friday, 40 hours a week. We're not getting that. Right now, we're getting sporadic time frames where they'll show up — sometimes it's twice a week, but then it's half a day. So everything is kind of getting behind."

The Sherburne County Board in mid-June unanimously approved an agreement with Nashville-based Wellpath, which takes effect Sept. 21 and means the county will have also cut ties with MEnD. County Sheriff Joel Brott declined to comment on the provider change or the lawsuit.

In the case of Sherrell, the 27-year-old Beltrami County jail prisoner died after becoming ill with numbness and pain in his chest and lower limbs while under the care of Leonard and MEnD staff. The medical practice board said Sherrell "endured days of suffering, begging those responsible for his care — medical providers and correction officers alike — for help that never came."

In his previous statement, Leonard called Sherrell's death a tragedy but said he believes the care was appropriate.

The board fined Leonard $30,000, but the company was not sanctioned and continues to provide health care services. Leonard can petition the board for reinstatement of his license six months after the suspension takes effect.

Del Shea Perry, Sherrell's mother, began advocating for the health and safety of incarcerated people after her son's death. Last summer, the state Legislature passed a law in Sherrell's name that set new standards for mental health, suicide prevention and other health practices.

As of October, Wright County will have also dropped MEnD and will instead contract with St. Cloud-based CentraCare for inmate health services. CentraCare, which also provides health care at Stearns County jail, offers inmates an opportunity for continued care after they leave jail and return to the community.

Wright County Sheriff's Capt. Pat O'Malley told commissioners in April that the CentraCare contract will cost more but will more than triple the amount of time the medical director and mental health providers are on-site.

"I think that in the long run, it will actually save us money from the reduced liability," he said.