JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Dr. Leon L. Haley Jr., CEO of UF Health Jacksonville who was lauded for his efforts in response to COVID-19, died Saturday in an accident on the water near the Palm Beach Inlet, officials said.
Haley, 56, was riding a personal watercraft when he was thrown off shortly after 10 a.m., the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said.
Haley was found in the water and taken to St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach, where he later died. He had been wearing a life jacket, according to the FWC.
Haley, the first Black CEO of UF Health, focused on many pandemic-related issues, including the effort to overcome mistrust of the vaccine in Florida, particularly among Black residents.
The day before his death, Haley held a conference call with elected officials and community leaders in Jacksonville to report that the current wave of COVID-19 cases was not showing any signs of waning, The Florida Times-Union reported.
He said during the call that overcoming vaccine hesitancy is a challenge even among the hospital’s thousands of employees, the newspaper reported.
In December, UF Health Jacksonville was the first hospitals in the area to receive shipments of the COVID-19 vaccine. Haley was the first in line there to get the shot, according to media reports.
“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,” the FWC said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with all of them.”
He is survived by his three children: Nichelle, Wesley and Grant, who is a cornerback for the New Orleans Saints.
The FWC is investigating the cause of the accident.