"Wishard only exists because the people of Indianapolis want it to exist," says Matt Gutwein, the president and CEO of Marion County's Health and Hospital Corporation. Soft-spoken and slender, eyes bright behind the dark frames of his glasses, Gutwein is widely credited with presiding over an institutional turnaround of truly epic proportions.
When then-mayor Bart Peterson asked Gutwein to take charge of Wishard, the county's public hospital, many people probably expected the job would entail closing the 150-year-old facility as gracefully as possible. During the year Gutwein took over, Wishard lost $77 million. It was in a seemingly irreversible downward spiral.
But 10 years and a resounding public referendum later, Wishard has not only been saved, it has been transformed. This December, a new $754 million facility, renamed Eskenazi Health, will open — a state-of-the-art public healthcare center just west of its current IUPUI campus location that represents an upgrade for the city's public hospital and an invigorated vision for public health overall.
It's the high point so far of a journey that, for Gutwein, began in Monon, Ind.
Knocking out Mike Tyson
U.S. Route 421 runs through the heart of Monon, a town of less than 2,000 people about 30 miles north of Lafayette. In the middle of the 20th century, when railroads crisscrossed Indiana, the Monon line made the town prosperous. Gutwein's great grandfather founded a Ford dealership there; five generations of Gutweins have been selling cars at the same location since 1934.
Gutwein worked in his dad's shop, sweeping floors and washing cars. "If I really got lucky, the guys in the body shop would help me sand. That was a big deal."
Gutwein majored in economics at Indiana University, then went on to IU's law school, where he met his future wife, the current head of the ACLU of Indiana, Jane Henegar.
Gutwein worked for a federal judge in San Diego for a year before landing a job with a Washington, D.C., law firm. But Henegar, originally from Bloomington, was keen to return to Indiana in order to be involved with grassroots politics. "She really wanted to work in government," says Gutwein. "She believed in the good that government can do."
It was 1991. Indianapolis was in the midst of a massive Downtown makeover. "When we moved back here, there were craters Downtown," Gutwein recalls. "The first Friday night we were here, we unpacked boxes and went to get something to eat. We could not find a restaurant that was open on a Friday night in downtown Indianapolis."
Gutwein was working for a law firm, Johnson Smith, when Henegar introduced him to Pam Carter. Carter was running for attorney general and needed a volunteer to drive her to several engagements in southern Indiana. "My only credentials were that I had a driver's license and, hopefully, was a reasonably safe driver."
Gutwein and Carter became friends that day. "I thought she was a person of extraordinary vision and very inspirational," he says. And when Carter eventually won her race, becoming the first female African-American state attorney general in the history of the United States, Gutwein was thrilled. "That this happened not in Massachusetts, not in New York, but in Indiana, was fantastic."
As Carter prepared to take office, she asked Gutwein to join her team. "The advice of essentially every lawyer I talked to about this was, 'Matt, do not go to work for the attorney general's office.'"
For lawyers, working in private practice was considered a stepping-stone to success, whereas the AG's office was considered a last resort, the place to go for those who couldn't get hired anywhere else. But Gutwein was undeterred. "I believed in [Carter] and what she could do."
He took the job and was immediately assigned his first case: Michael G. Tyson v. the State of Indiana.
Heavyweight champion boxer Mike Tyson had been convicted of rape by an Indianapolis jury. Tyson, who was represented in court by Alan Dershowitz, a legal star in his own right, appealed. The case attracted international attention.
The Indiana Attorney General's office is responsible for handling all appeals of criminal convictions. Carter asked Gutwein to take the lead role for the state and present oral arguments. "It was the first oral argument I'd ever done in my life," he says, still sounding nonplussed.
Over the next two years, the appeals process wended its way through the court system, moving through the Indiana Court of Appeals and state Supreme Court, as well as the federal court system. Gutwein and his team won at every level. "I was three years out of law school, basically. It was a tremendous experience."
During his time in the AG's office, Gutwein also presented an oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that has become a landmark, Heck v. Humphrey, dealing with federal habeas corpus law.
Then Gov. Evan Bayh tapped Gutwein to be chief counsel to the governor's office. "The fact that I was there is one of the extraordinary things about Indiana and the opportunities for people [here]," says Gutwein. "Until the governor interviewed me for this job, I'm not sure I had ever actually met him. But I think Indianapolis is a place a young person can become involved and be a participant in a meaningful way. People like Jane and myself, who really didn't know anybody, who came here without a web of family and business and personal relationships, but who showed up, were willing to work hard and expressed an interest in being involved — people are eager to accept you and help you do that."
Gutwein soon found himself in a circle that included Peterson, the future Indianapolis mayor. "I was with a group of people who were incredibly talented, beginning with the governor himself," says Gutwein. "For every decision, they wanted to make sure you'd figured out the implications 10 steps down the road. Gov. Bayh would cross-examine you. Then, that night, he'd call and ask you the same questions again."
Serving Bayh in this capacity meant that Gutwein was on the front line in thinking through cases involving the death penalty. "These are sober and somber cases. Both the attorney general and the governor probed deeply to make sure that the system worked properly and had been fair, and that the outcome, that first a jury and then a judge and then multiple courts of appeals and then a governor was making, was ultimately just. Those were difficult cases."
When Bayh's term was up, he and Gutwein both landed at the Indianapolis law firm of Baker and Daniels. For Bayh, it was a temporary resting place before his election to the U.S. Senate. For Gutwein, it was the prelude to his work with Wishard Hospital.
Editors' note: Each year, NUVO awards Cultural Vision Awards to local entrepreneurs and innovators. This year, Eskenazi Health is a CVA winner. Please join us at our ceremony June 7, at 6 p.m. at Indiana Landmarks. Admission is free.