CEO of UF Health Jacksonville died in Waverunner accident, FWC says

Dr. Leon Haley was at forefront of fight against COVID-19 in Jacksonville

Dr. Leon Haley Jr., the CEO of UF Health Jacksonville and dean of the UF College of medicine lost his life in a jet ski accident in South Florida over the weekend.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – UF Health Jacksonville CEO Dr. Leon Haley Jr. died Saturday after he was thrown from a personal watercraft in the Palm Beach Inlet, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said in a statement Sunday.

According to FWC, Haley was operating the Yamaha Waverunner on Saturday morning when he was ejected from the watercraft and was found in the water wearing a life jacket. FWC said he was taken to a hospital in West Palm Beach, where he died.

Here is the full statement released by FWC:

“On Saturday, July 24, at 10:33 am, FWC responded to the report of a personal watercraft (PWC) incident at the Palm Beach Inlet, South jetty, involving a 2021 10′ Yamaha PWC, operated by Leon Leroy Haley, DOB 11/06/1964, of Jacksonville. Dr. Haley was ejected from the watercraft and was located in the water wearing a life jacket. Dr. Haley was transported to St. Mary’s Hospital in West Palm Beach, where he was confirmed deceased as a result of injuries sustained in this incident. All of the members of the FWC want to express our sincere sympathies to Dr. Haley’s family, friends and his colleagues at the University of Florida Health Jacksonville. Our thoughts and prayers are with all of them.”

Photo shows the personal watercraft accident Saturday in the Palm Beach inlet. (Provided to WJXT)

FWC is currently investigating this incident.

Reaction to Haley’s death continues to receive condolences from community leaders, doctors and those that admired his work and integrity from afar.

It’s a painful reality that a pillar in the community is gone.

The head of UF Health in Jacksonville and Gainesville released a statement Sunday following Haley’s death, saying he was a great leader, person and friend.

“Dr. Haley was such an incredible leader and colleague to all of us at UF Health, but he was also a good friend to so many, an amazing advocate for equality in health care, and most importantly a man of integrity who always wanted to do the right thing,” said David R. Nelson, MD, senior vice president for health affairs and president of UF Health. “This is not only a tremendous loss to Dr. Haley’s family, friends and the people he led at UF, but also to our communities in North Florida and elsewhere around the country. His leadership and friendship will be missed, but we will come together and continue his vision.”

RELATED: City leaders, colleagues mourn sudden loss of UF Health Jacksonville CEO

Haley was one of the key faces in the fight against COVID-19 in Jacksonville.

In mid-December, he stepped up to become the first person in Jacksonville to receive the Pfizer vaccine when it became available, setting an example for his staff and the rest of the city.

Dr. Leon L. Haley Jr., CEO of UF Health Jacksonville and dean of the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville, was among the first in Florida to be vaccinated. (Image credit: UF Health) (WKMG 2020)

More than seven months later, after what seemed like a lull, that battle shifted into gear again as the delta variant took hold and hospitals again began to be filled with coronavirus patients -- many of them unvaccinated. Haley recently said COVID-19 patient visits increased 1,000% since mid-June, and he voiced concerns to News4Jax that vaccination rates among hospital staff are 50% or less.

Haley, who served as the dean of the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville, became the first Black CEO of UF Health Jacksonville in January 2018. He was also vice president of health affairs of the University of Florida.

Haley often appeared on News4Jax to talk about the fight against COVID-19 as well as other medical issues making headlines

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