While the healthcare industry and its critics took turns hailing and assailing the appellate decision to overturn criminal convictions of two former Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp. officials, one of the executives, Robert Whiteside, is working on rebuilding his career.
For Whiteside, the ruling was certainly good news, but he's not sure he's out of the woods just yet, he said. In an exclusive, in-depth interview with Modern Healthcare last week, the former HCA executive said he's looking forward to putting the five-year ordeal behind him. Jay Jarrell, the other former HCA executive whose conviction was overturned, was traveling last week and could not be reached, according to his attorney.
"It's kind of like the story of a guy banging his head against the wall," said Whiteside, the 51-year-old former director of HCA's single markets division. "Yes, I feel a lot better for the absence of pain, but the main feeling is, why did I have to go through all that?"
For Whiteside, "all that" included the prospect of going to prison and trying to arrange his affairs so his family-his wife, Diane, and their two sons, Will, now 14, and Walt, now 10-could live something like the life they were accustomed to. By dipping into their savings, the Whiteside family managed to keep its home in Brentwood, Tenn., a Nashville suburb, but Whiteside hasn't bought himself a new pair of shoes in five years and is driving a 1992 Toyota, he said. The financial situation would have been more dire if HCA hadn't picked up his legal fees, as well as those of the other three defendants in the case.
But worse than the financial hardships was the mental and emotional anguish.
"It was a lot of lost sleep, lying in bed and wondering," he said. "When you've got kids, you want to be able to commit to things, (such as Boy) Scouts and soccer."
Whiteside read the appeals court opinion, which was quietly issued March 22, on the sidelines of a soccer game. The morning after it was filed, a Saturday, he happened to log onto the appeals court's Web site; he had the site saved as one of his "favorites" on his Web browser. He was able to download the ruling, but his computer, an older model, didn't have the right software to open the file. An attorney friend printed the opinion and faxed it to him, and he took it along to the boys' soccer games.
Learning the good news near a soccer field was a sweet coincidence, because Whiteside had spent much of his time since his conviction volunteering with his sons' soccer teams, their Boy and Cub Scouts troops and at the local YMCA. He couldn't find much work, he said, because his conviction had barred him from working for a Medicare provider.
"There is a silver lining to all this," he said. "I got to spend a lot of time with my sons that I wouldn't have if I had been working and traveling."