By: By Tammy Daniels On: 06:39PM / Wednesday March 17, 2010
Cook Kathy Sage sets up a grilled burger and fries to go at North Adams Regional Hospital.
North Adams Regional Hospital has revamped the way it delivers meals to provide patients a better dining experience.
The dietary department switched to room service at the beginning of the month, abandoning a long tradition of assembly-line meals that worked in the days when the kitchen fed well more than 140 patients a day.
Changes in health care over the years mean fewer patients being admitted and shorter stays for the ones who are. With a patient count averaging around 40, it made more sense to re-orient meals around their needs, rather than keep them on the kitchen's schedule, said dietitian Kristin Irace.
"The patients love it," said Irace. "We've been getting tons of good comments from doctors, too."
Diet aide Nancy O'Neill scans the bar code on the order slip to track the tray's movement. Ordering is computerized.
Irace showed us around the new layout on Friday and demonstrated how the meals are entered as patients call in their orders from the menu.
"They can have anything they want as long as their diets allow it," she said. In other words, just because it's on the menu, doesn't mean you can eat it.
The computerized ordering system automatically keeps track of caloric intake, salt limits or other dietary restrictions. Prohibited items are grayed out on the screen.
That may be a disappointment for say, diabetics, but for the average patient, the menu offers a variety of hot and cold entrees, from breakfast sandwiches to fruit platters to homemade meatloaf. Also on the menu are items off the grill, create-your-own-pasta dishes, deli sandwiches and soups. Specials are offered, too, depending on what the cafeteria is offering.
The trifold menu is easy to read and the cover is a still life by local artist Ed Carson, whose work is exhibited at the hospital.
Patients can dial 5500 anytime between 7 a.m. and 6:15 p.m., when they're ready to eat. Their diet and ability to order is indicated on their admission charts; the computers can be taken to patients who have trouble ordering over the phone.
They can also order one meal for a visitor at a cost of $5 or $3 for breakfast.
The orders are tracked through a bar code system: Once the order is entered into the computer, an order slip with a bar code is printed to the cook and server. The slip is scanned when the meal tray is completed and again before it leaves the kitchen.
The wait to get trays out at mealtimes is 10 minutes or 10 trays, whichever comes first, said Irace. "This ensures meals are getting to patients within 45 minutes or less."
The new dishware and equipment required for the change to "At Your Request" dining, including a fast-heating charger, was provided by Sodexo, the company that's operated the dietary department for two decades.
"Meals are something that the patients can control in a situation that may difficult for them," said Irace. "It's gives them some comfort, so that's nice."