Dr. Leon L. Haley Jr., CEO of UF Health Jacksonville since 2018 and leader of the local medical community’s COVID-19 response, died Saturday.
“It is with great sadness that we confirm the death of UF Health Jacksonville CEO Leon L. Haley Jr. Dr. Haley was a strong, inspirational leader and beloved son, father, friend and colleague,” according to a hospital statement. “We ask that you keep his family in your prayers tonight and in the coming days.”
“We do not have specific details of his passing at this time. We ask that you respect the privacy of Dr. Haley’s family, friends and colleagues at UF Health,” according to the statement.
In December 2020, UF Health Jacksonville was the first local hospital to receive shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine, Dr. Haley, a physician, was the first in line there to get the shot.
He and other hospital CEOs met regularly with Mayor Lenny Curry and collaborated on pandemic response.
“Dr. Haley meant so much to so many people and to Jacksonville,” Curry said on Twitter. “Losing him is tragic and painful. I’m praying for his family. I always enjoyed our professional interactions but really enjoyed him as a person. We often talked about our families.”
City Councilwoman Brenda Priestly Jackson said on Twitter that Dr. Haley “served our Jacksonville/Duval County community & UF Health with knowledge, distinction & an eye to helping to keep our neighbors whole during the Covid-19 Pandemic & beyond. We are praying for your family & other loved ones.
A day before his death, Dr. Haley held a conference call with area elected officials and community leaders to report that the current a wave of COVID-19 cases was not showing any signs of breaking. He said he found that overcoming vaccine hesitancy is a challenge even among the hospital’s thousands of employees.
“Dr. Haley was a wonderful leader and a friend. His absence will be deeply felt, especially right now as our hospital is struggling through a Covid surge,” said Chad Neilsen, director of infection prevention at UF Health Jacksonville, on Twitter.
Dr. Haley was also a member of the JEA board. CEO Jay Stowe said he was “shocked and heartbroken” to learn of his death.
“On behalf of JEA employees, my heartfelt condolences go to his family and friends. It was an honor to work with Dr. Haley — his care for JEA and all of NE Florida will be missed,” he said on Twitter.
Dr. Haley first joined UF Health Jacksonville as dean of the University of Florida College of Medicine-Jacksonville in January 2017. A year later, he succeeded former CEO Russ Armistead, as the hospital’s first Black leader.
UF Health Jacksonville reported his death on its Facebook page and asked people to leave “thoughts and memories” of Dr. Haley in the comments section.
Intensive care unit nurse Lauren Rose wrote that he “spent his last day at the hospital walking unit to unit, administering the COVID vaccine himself in an effort to protect his staff. What a selfless and gracious final act as a leader.”
Another commenter and hospital staffer, Lindsey Wheaton, said Dr. Haley “made me feel important and really excited me when he spoke with such passion and endearment for patients and the growth and vision of our hospital and city.
“I have never felt as inspired to be a leader and being a leader as I have since he has been our CEO and Dean,” Wheaton said on Facebook. “This is an unimaginable loss to so many. I honestly don’t know what direction our hospital and even our city will go in now with this Covid surge and without his amazing leadership.
He came to Jacksonville from Atlanta where he was executive associate dean of the Emory School of Medicine and deputy senior vice president of medical affairs at Grady Memorial Hospital. Like UF Health Jacksonville, Grady is both an academic center and a safety-net hospital.
A native of Pittsburgh, Haley earned his bachelor’s degree from Brown University and his medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He earned a master’s degree in health administration from the University of Michigan and completed his residency in emergency medicine at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.
He served a year as chief resident before being recruited to serve as chief of emergency medicine at Grady Memorial.
Beth Reese Cravey: (904) 359-4109