JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (WFLA) — Governor Ron DeSantis spoke at UF Health Jacksonville on Monday morning, alongside Florida Surgeon General Dr. Joseph Ladapo. The governor announced $80 million had been set aside in the state budget to replace the hospital location’s outdated trauma facility.
Featuring a sign that read “Honoring a Legacy: Dr. Leon Haley Trauma Center,” it appeared the governor had gathered to honor a doctor who had passed away in 2021.
“I have not signed the budget yet, because we’re still going through a lot of line items to make sure we’re being good stewards of the taxpayers’ dollar, but I can say that I have approved an $80 million appropriation for UF Health Jacksonville to replace their current, outdated and overcrowded trauma center with a state of the art Level 1 trauma facility.”
“This will have a significant impact on this community, I think a lot of the different projects that get done, this is something that had huge support. We’re also happy to announce that the new state of the art trauma center will be named after Leon Haley Jr., MD Trauma Center, named after Dr. Leon Haley Jr.,” DeSantis said. “This project will provide better access to emergency health services for the Jacksonville community, as well as high-quality care. UF’s emergency department draws patients from across the area including residents from Nassau, Clay, St. Johns and Baker counties. With the new trauma center, it’s expected to see over 125,000 patients per year. Outside of Jacksonville, the closest trauma centers are either Gainesville or Savannah. So this trauma center will not only benefit the Jacksonville community, but also the surrounding communities who need access to emergency care. UF Health is a top notch institution, that not only serves the community but prepares our doctors for the future. The hospital is Florida’s first Level 1 trauma center, it’s also the only Level 1 trauma center in the region.”
DeSantis said UF Health Jacksonville was rated one of the top hospitals in the country last year, and received thousands of trauma center and emergency room visits in 2021, and employed thousands of people as well as serving as a teaching hospital and being a “significant employer.”
“It’s fitting that we’re able to use this facility to honor Dr. Haley’s legacy, this will be a major, major institution throughout this region, we want to make sure that patients in Florida, of course protect their rights which we did in the last legislative session, but we want them to have access to high-quality care. This is a big investment, but I think it’s a warranted investment, and we really are excited to announce that once that budget is signed, don’t worry, don’t call me anymore, we’re good,” DeSantis said. “We got it, it’s approved and it’ll be in there. And we’re going to continue to support projects like this. We’re also fortunate to be here today to hear from some great folks, we have some members of Dr. Haley’s family, so we’re going to hear first from his son Grant, and then his father, Leon Sr.”
Grant Haley spoke after the governor’s introduction. He thanked the governor, saying the honor for his father was special to the family and the community as a whole.
“Every single time I got to visit, I got to see the hospital and I got to see his vision of what he wanted the city to truly be like. My siblings and I watched my father work at Grady Hospital and the trauma center that they had over there. You know, it was really important to him to be able to be a hero, I think that’s how my father envisioned himself. It’s a special moment for all of us to be able to remember him by having the Leon Haley Trauma Center at UF Health,” Grant Haley said. “I think his legacy goes far beyond just being a trauma doctor or a CEO. He taught me so many values and lessons on being a man of service, a man of faith, a man that…you know what truly is a man? Not somebody who’s in the spotlight but does the dirty work when people aren’t looking. It’s a blessing to be able to sit up here and talk on behalf of not just my family, but my siblings, they wish they could be here…I think to be able to come up here and spend this time is really important for me.”
He thanked everyone who helped push this initiative forward, and thanked those gathered for the honor for his father. Leon Haley Sr. spoke next, also introduced by the governor.
“Yesterday, Easter Sunday, my wife and I were listening to an Easter sermon titled ‘Good News from the Graveyard,'” Haley Sr. said. “And in the course of the sermon, the minister referred to two experiences that all of us from time to time share or have. One is grief, the other is gratitude. In the course of the day, I kept reflecting on Leon, and my wife and I and his siblings and the grief we have shared over the last year. It’s been deep, it’s painful, and it’s filled us with a great deal of sorrow, but on the other hand, we are full of gratitude.”
He thanked God for giving them their son, and said that despite it all, he was grateful, telling a story of his son visiting in Pittsburgh to check on the family and share his love.
After Haley Sr. spoke, DeSantis introduced Russ Armistead, CEO of UF Health. He thanked DeSantis and Haley’s family for speaking and honoring Dr. Haley Jr.
“We see Leon in this family. There’s no other way, thank you for those words. That’s actually almost enough for today,” Armistead said. “Dr. Haley and Grant, you’re really the reason we’re able to be here today. What an exciting event for UF Health Jacksonville, the College of Medicine here in Jacksonville, the Haley family, the city, Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia. What the legislature and the governor has done has been monumental for us, for this community, and for our patients. A Level 1 trauma center has been a centerpiece for health care in this region for three decades. As some of you know, we’re one of the first trauma care programs to open in Florida, in 1983. Today, we’re still the only combined adult and pediatric trauma center in this region.”
Armistead said each year they see over 4,000 patients, and said the impact on the community was impossible to measure.
“We’ve been able to provide these services despite working in an incredibly challenging environment. Our people provide some of the best care and expertise you will find, but the trauma center itself as well as our emergency department was in dire need of upgrades, this funding will change that dramatically” Armistead said. “It’s a wonderful way to honor our colleague, former CEO Leon Haley Jr., who tragically passed away earlier this year.”
He said the idea to honor Haley Jr. in this way came during a fishing trip of nine individuals in the Florida Keys. Armistead said at first he thought the idea was “nuts.” He said Haley Jr. was known as a bridge builder and a man who cared about health care and taking care of equity, despite race, political party or socioeconomic status.
“His work with political leaders is well-known,” Armistead said of Haley Jr. “Connection to the city, city council, civic groups, is unmatched. Everyone here at UF cannot thank you enough. I’m personally touched because of my personal connection with Dr. Haley Jr., this organization, and our community.”
Dr. Linda Edwards, Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and now Dean of the UF Health Medical College in Jacksonville, spoke next, thanking everyone for the monumental resource being provided to the community, but also for how it honors Dr. Haley Jr.
Listing his accomplishments, Edwards said Haley Jr. was beloved and sorely missed, for his reputation, his skills and his impact on the community, as a bridge builder and in his role as the first African American dean of the College and CEO of UF Health Jacksonville. She said the new trauma center would help continue Dr. Haley’s vision.
The state surgeon general spoke next. He said he was not in Florida while Haley Jr. was, but he’d taken time to learn about his legacy and impact on the community.
“It’s really remarkable, it’s really clear from looking at the faces, there’s a really genuine sort of appreciation and love that is visible in your faces and it must be a reflection of the relationship you had with him and how you felt about him,” Ladapo said. “And how he impacted your lives and impacted the community here…I wish I had had the opportunity to meet him. I think it’s in addition to the example that he clearly set, and the very positive and affirming effect that he had on you all. The introduction of sort of expanded trauma center facilities is also a benefit for the community. Trauma is something we all want to avoid, but often don’t have a choice when it chooses to become a part of someone’s life. Having access to resources that really help preserve life and preserve function in a timely way, is obviously a huge benefit to the community.”
In closing, Ladapo said he wanted to express the beginning of his appreciation for Dr. Haley’s impact on everyone gathered, and his ability to bring everyone’s genuine feelings present in the room. Then he thanked the governor and legislature for making the funding award possible.
After presenting the $80 million check, the governor retook the podium to underscore the productive quality of the previous legislative session. He made comments on the coming legislative sessions, and said he would be issuing a proclamation on the coming special session on property insurance in the near future.
“I’m going to work with the legislative leaders on those dates, and it’ll be focused on reform of the property insurance market,” DeSantis said. “We may also address other issues that came close to getting across the finish line, that maybe we can tweak and get there. And once we have an agreement on that, I’ll be announcing that in addition as well.”
Then the governor took questions from the audience and gathered media.
He first addressed the news about rejected books announced for the coming school year, which was announced Friday.
“I think there’s a number of reasons. We got rid of Common Core, as you know,” DeSantis said. “We have BEST standards, which is a better way to do a lot of things, but particularly math. One of the criticisms was that parents couldn’t help their kids with math homework. You do have things like social or emotional learning, that are more political in there. Our view, first it doesn’t meet the standards. Second, is math is about getting the right answer. We want kids to learn to think, so they can get the right answer. It’s not about how you feel about the problem or to introduce some of these other things. There’s a right answer and a wrong answer. Most of the books that did not meet Florida’s standards, for whatever reason, happened to be in the earlier grades. As you get into the older grades, most of those books did meet the standards. We’re going to continue to focus education on the strong academic performance of the students. We don’t want things like math to have some of these other concepts introduced. It’s been proven that it’s not effective and quite frankly takes our eye off the ball.”
Responding to a question about education as follow-up to the book list, DeSantis said there was an appeal process underway for some of the textbooks rejected, but mentioned that some information was considered proprietary and so some information might not be made publicly available for review, though some books may be tweaked before resubmission or appeal.
“There’s a process they’re going to go under, but I would talk to the Department of Education and ask them what they’re going to do. I would like them to be released, but I respect the process,” DeSantis said.
Ladapo answered the next question, focused on how to analyze disease processes and studies on virology.
“Something that I want to share has been a problem throughout the pandemic,” Ladapo said. “A very common pattern has been for people to grab onto data that fits with a hypothesis they have. I would actually say, stronger than a hypothesis, I would say a belief they have about how things are, or why the pandemic is unfolding in a certain way in different places. A very good example of that is a paper that was recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association that looked at something we call ‘excess deaths’ in different states in the country, including Florida. Basically what this paper did, was take advantage of the fact that Delta was a very unique phenomenon to the Southeast and used the fact that excess deaths were higher in Florida during the Delta wave that didn’t really affect California and of course tried to tie it to their beliefs about how the pandemic should’ve been handled. In other words, the way that Gov. DeSantis has led Florida is wrong. What they didn’t mention, of course specifically they tried to tie it to vaccination rates. What these authors in the Journal of the American Medical Association didn’t mention is that actually the vaccination rates were comparable.”
Ladapo said it was important to approach these questions with humility, because “we don’t really know why some locations have had surges at different times, why some countries have been untouched,” and that he and DeSantis had talked recently about Sub-Saharan Africa had had different viral results than other areas.
“Approaching this from a place of humility rather than ideology would be to the betterment of everyone in very meaningful ways,” Ladapo said.
DeSantis took the podium again, saying Ladapo gave a great answer.
“I’d just like to point out, look at western countries have had pretty similar experiences regardless of mitigations imposed, a lot of it’s tracked age and obesity rates in their societies and that’s not just in the United States,” DeSantis said. “But if you look at the states that have imposed really draconian mitigations, you’ve had a lot of collateral damage. You’ve had a lot of excess mortality apart from COVID because of some of the lockdown policies. You denied kids education, an that’s going to have ramifications for years and years and years. And then obviously you’ve had significant problems with the economy. IF someone’s unemployed their future health prospects go down, there’s a whole host of things…One thing that really frustrates me that the media does is they’ll look at a country like China, that is run by the Communist Party of China, and they’ll cite their statistics as if those are valid! According to China, they haven’t had COVID deaths in China for a year. Can you believe that? If you believe that, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.”
Addressing redistricting, DeSantis said he has not endorsed anybody for congressional races and said he won’t endorse anyone until the redistricting special session has finished, but said he had not drawn his own maps for redistricting.
It was unclear if he was referring to maps drawn generally, or specific to this particular special session. Previously, DeSantis had released his own version of congressional maps, prior to the end of the main legislative session. His maps were released before the Legislature had finished its own, and before he said he would veto theirs at the end of session.
DeSantis vetoed the maps submitted to him on March 29. Other reporting showed that the state legislature would be reviewing maps submitted by the governor’s office for the special session, which starts Tuesday.
In a memo sent to lawmakers, legislative leadership said they would not be drawing maps, instead “awaiting on a communication from the governor’s office with a map that he will support.”