Marleen Baesch has been at Munson Medical Center longer than Medicare

Lyndon B. Johnson signed Medicare into law July 30, 1965; Baesch started as a cashier, billing patients, "11-22 of '65. I was working the first date Medicare [became available], 7-1 of '66. Harry Truman got the first card."

Munson Medical Center's longest-serving employee, 77-year-old Baesch boasts a memory and perspective that makes her an irreplaceable part of Munson's central business office, where the former manager works as a consultant three half days each week.

"When I turned 70," she explains. "I partially retired."

Kind of.

On her days off, Baesch volunteers with the local Michigan Medicare/Medicaid Assistance Program [MMAP], helping people navigate the tangled maze of Medicare prescription drug plans, Medicare advantage prescription drug plans, Medicaid, Medicap, Medigap, and more.

On her days at Munson, Baesch says she tackles special projects – cleaning up contracts, going over patient accounts, directing billing to its proper source, solving issues – "It's a fun time," she says.

But nothing like it was when she started. "Back then we typed up ledgers, posted charges. When we posted charges you would pick up the balance on the ledger, put in the room rate – it was $28.50 then.

"At that time, Munson was very small. The building was probably less than a quarter of what it is now. No intensive care. No MRI. The info system was zilch. I interviewed with Mr. Hanson, the vice president. We didn't even have a human resource department."

In those days, Baesch was a young mother of four. Her youngest had just turned five. She and her husband, who worked in management for J.C. Penny department store, wanted to buy a house in Traverse City.

"Fact of the matter was, we couldn't afford it," she says. "My husband wanted to take a second job. I said, 'Norman, you can't do that.' And I came to Munson and applied."

The couple eventually got their house, a trim-and-tidy place on Eighth Street. "Been there 40 years last June," says Baesch. Norman passed away 12 years ago, but the house still fills with family – 23 this past holiday for a prime rib dinner Baesch cooked.

Though Baesch's credits her own staying power to staying active and Suduko – "Numbers are my friend," she says – she credits Munson with making it worth her while to put in 44 years … and counting.

"Munson is very good at giving people the opportunity to grow and improve," she says.

As for full retirement, that may be a while yet. Says Baesch,"Like I told my manager now, as long as I feel I make a difference, I'll be here."BN