Shady Side Academy graduate
was CEO of a Florida hospital
by Rob Taylor Jr.
Courier Staff Writer
The New Pittsburgh Courier has learned that Pittsburgh native Leon L. Haley Jr., M.D., who most recently served as CEO of the University of Florida Health System-Jacksonville, died in a jet ski accident near West Palm Beach, July 24.
He was 56.
“Dr. Haley was a beloved member of the UF Health family whose warm smile and kind demeanor brightened the day of all who knew him,” said Colleen Koch, M.D., M.S., M.B.A., Dean of the University of Florida College of Medicine, in a public statement. “He was a fierce advocate for his patients, his team and his community. He cared deeply about serving the underserved, moving medicine forward and impacting the lives of each person he encountered.”
“Dr. Haley was an incredible leader and a beloved son, father, friend and colleague,” added David R. Nelson, M.D., Senior Vice President for Health Affairs at the University of Florida and President of UF Health.
Dr. Haley was raised mostly in Point Breeze, and graduated from Shady Side Academy in 1982. He told the Courier in an exclusive interview four years ago that his parents, Ann and Leon Sr., were his personal role models, along with his grandmother, Mattie Sharpe (deceased). Dr. Haley also said at the time that his professional role models included the late Carolyn Carter, one of the first Black head nurses at St. Francis General Hospital, and Don Yealy, now the chief medical officer at UPMC.
Yealy “was a Fellow in Emergency Medicine that helped interest me in the field,” Dr. Haley had said.
LEON L. HALEY JR., a 1982 Shady Side Academy High School graduate, died unexpectedly in Florida on July 24. Dr. Haley was CEO of the University of Florida Health System-Jacksonville.
Dr. Haley completed his undergraduate degree from Brown University in Providence, and earned his medical degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He received his master’s degree in health services administration from the University of Michigan. Dr. Haley completed his residency in Emergency Medicine and was a Fellow of the American College of Emergency Physicians.
“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,” Dr. Nelson said, reported by the Florida Times-Union. “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.”
Prior to arriving in Jacksonville, Dr. Haley was executive associate dean of the Emory School of Medicine and deputy senior vice president of medical affairs at Grady Memorial Hospital, both in Atlanta.
By all accounts, his appointment to CEO of UF Health-Jacksonville was met with praise.
GRANT HALEY, a professional football player with the New Orleans Saints, has this photo on his Instagram social media page. It’s a photo of Grant as a young child with his father, Dr. Leon Haley Jr.
“Dr. Haley was instrumental in my decision to join UF. In the short time I knew him, I saw firsthand how inspirational of a leader he was, and I feel lucky to have been able to call him my colleague,” Dr. Koch added in her public statement.
“As we grapple to process this loss, let us remember Dr. Haley’s uplifting spirit and strive to continue his incredible work and legacy.”
Dr. Haley was lauded for his leadership in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic in Jacksonville. In December 2020,
UF Health Jacksonville was the first local hospital to receive shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine, and it was Dr. Haley who was the first person there to get the shot, the Florida Times-Union reported.
“Dr. Haley meant so much to so many people and to Jacksonville. Losing him is tragic and painful,” said Jacksonville’s mayor, Lenny Curry, on Twitter. “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.”
The day before his death, Dr. Haley held a telephone conference call with Jacksonville and Florida leaders urging them to stress to the public how important it is to get vaccinated for COVID. He said his hospital, UF Health Jacksonsville, had seen a 1,000 percent increase in COVID-19 cases since June 18, and that as of July 23, there were 150 there people hospitalized with COVID.
The Florida Times-Union reported that an emergency medicine physician at UF Health Jacksonville, Andrew Schmidt, wrote this on his Facebook page: “I have … always felt bad for the other hospitals because they didn’t have a man like Leon Haley at the helm. When most systems are being run primarily as a business and secondarily as a place of care,
Dr. Haley was a true rock star doctor who really gave a damn about the health of the community and keeping the focus of the hospital on high quality care. You would be very hard pressed to find another hospital CEO who spent as much time in the emergency department, getting to know staff and helping to educate residents. With the disconnect that many medical professionals feel between the ‘C Suite’ and the folks actually providing care, he was our secret weapon. Our city, despite its continued issues with controlling COVID, owes a lot to Dr. Haley for keeping the issues of infection control and vaccination at the forefront.”
Along with his parents, Dr. Haley is survived by his daughter, Nichelle, and two sons, Wesley and Grant.
Visitation for Dr. Haley will be held on Friday, July 30, from 4 to 8 p.m. at Wesley Center AME Zion Church, 2701 Centre Ave., Hill District. Dr. Haley’s funeral will be held on Saturday, July 31, also at the church.