UF Health Jacksonville Leon Haley Brain Wellness Program opens


A few years ago, the late Dr. Leon Haley Jr., CEO of UF Health Jacksonville, told a longtime friend that he was looking for a “big idea” to distinguish the hospital.

“He said he wanted to do something big, something transformational,” said Renay Blumenthal, vice president of The Marcus Foundation Inc.

That big idea came to fruition on Friday at the hospital’s Springfield campus, with the opening of the UF Health Jacksonville Leon L. Haley Jr. MD Brain Wellness Program. The center will focus on veterans and other first responders and provide treatment for “invisible injuries” such as traumatic brain injury, post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, anxiety and other traumatic injuries. service.

The program will also serve non-veterans, helping to subsidize the cost of care for veterans.

Haley died in July after being thrown from a jet ski in South Florida. Her father, Leon Haley Sr., and other family members attended the Friday event.

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“Leon didn’t say much about what he was doing here,” his father said, noting that their conversations were mostly football-centric. “I never knew anything about this program.… But it resonates with me.”

Haley Sr. was one of 12 children, including nine sons, and he said they were all in the military. One came home with problems, he said, and reportedly took advantage of the new Jacksonville center.

Fans do it

Under construction since 2020, the center will be the third treatment site according to a model developed by the Gary Sinise Foundation Avalon Network, a cognitive health and mental wellness network that also focuses on veterans and first responders. The Avalon Network contributed $ 12.5 million to the UF Health Jacksonville program earlier this year.

The total cost of the program was not provided.

“The ability to help veterans and the military, who are part of the fabric of Northeast Florida, is an honor for UF Health and UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville,” said Russ Armistead, the successor from the CEO of Haley. “This transformative program was a priority for Dr. Haley before his tragic death and we are simply continuing his mission of serving our community. We believe that focusing our efforts on this initiative is one way to make it happen and will reduce some of the burden. facing the veterans. “

Another supporter was The Players Tournament, which announced a donation of $ 1 million at Friday’s event.

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“We couldn’t sit on the sidelines and watch. We had to get involved,” said Jared Rice, vice president and executive director of The Players Tournament. He noted that the donation was made possible by tournament sponsors, volunteers and fans. “Without the support of the community, we wouldn’t be able to give this gift.”

Other partners supporting the center are the Blumanthal’s Marcus Foundation, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the VyStar Credit Union and the Jaguars Foundation.

The center will provide “intensive outpatient treatment led by a full team of behavioral neurologists, physiotherapists, neuropsychologists, case managers and integrative therapists, using programs including the healing arts, equine therapy, pet therapy, yoga, sleep analysis and more, ”according to UF Santé. “This model has proven to be extremely successful in healing patients when they return home, and our mission is to replicate that here in Northeast Florida.”

A model for caring for veterans

Since 2001, 114,000 veterans have committed suicide, a rate 50% higher than their peers who did not serve in the military, according to State Senator Aaron Bean, head of relationship development. hospital.

“It’s a crisis,” he said.

The new Haley program will be led by its medical director, Dr. Michael Sorna Jr., a physician and Army and Navy veteran and associate professor at UF College of Medicine-Jacksonville.

“We have a problem and if we work together we can solve the problem,” he said. “This is an important mission. The most important mission I have been involved in.”

Sorna, who has served in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan, said he hoped the US withdrawal from Afghanistan would usher in “many years of peace and prosperity” for that country. But “unfortunately the fight is only just beginning” for some veterans who suffered “mostly invisible injuries,” he said.

They have feelings of “worthlessness and not belonging, as well as intrusive thoughts and bad memories,” he said. “They don’t fit in, they feel broken… Deeply isolated. They just want to be back to what they were before. Mainstream medicine has disappointed them, they feel demoralized.”

The Sinise / Avalon network model “is an effort to change the way we treat them,” he said, by treating “the whole person – physically, mentally and spiritually”. The model has been “very successful” at the other two treatment sites at the University of Colorado and Tulane University, he said.

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Dr David Nelson, president of UF Health and senior vice president of health affairs at the University of Florida, said staff are still mourning the loss of Haley. But “seeing his legacy unfold” was a healing, he said.

“Brain health is a huge opportunity to do the right thing,” he said, “and to start providing better care. We take this responsibility very seriously.”

The Jacksonville area is home to one of the largest military populations in the country, including Naval Base Mayport and Naval Air Station Jacksonville. About 150,000 veterans live in Jacksonville alone, according to Harrison Conyers, the city’s supervisor of military affairs and veteran services.

“They need care, they deserve care,” he said. “They are part of the fabric of this community.”


The center is located on the UF Health Jacksonville campus in the Professional Office Building at 1833 Blvd. For more information, call (904) 244-3289 or visit ufhealthjax.org/brain-wellness or garysinisefoundation.org.

[email protected], (904) 359-4109


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