Here's one type of room service you won't have to tip for — after all, hospital gowns don't really have a good place to store a wallet.
Lawrence Memorial Hospital officials have approved a new room service meal option for patients by mid-2014.
Gone will be the days when patients have to fill out their menus a day in advance and then wait for the appointed time to have their meals delivered. Hospital leaders are working to create a system in which patients will be able to order a meal off of a restaurant-like menu and have it delivered within 30 minutes.
"Our goal is for it to be much more patient-centered and on their time schedule," said Janice Early, the hospital's vice president of marketing and communications.
Hospital executives are hoping the meals will be healthier and tastier, too. The room service program is part of a complete revamping of the food and beverage division that includes outsourcing food preparation to Unidine Corp.
The hospital's board of trustees was briefed on the changes at its Wednesday meeting.
The food preparation will continue to occur in the kitchens of LMH, but now under the direction of Unidine officials instead of LMH employees. Early said that Unidine is bringing in its own director and a chef, but the rest of the LMH food service staff, about 35 full-time equivalent positions, will be leaving LMH's employment and will transfer over to Unidine.
"We're making this change because we really want to do something to demonstrate our commitment to fresh, healthy food," said Karen Shumate, the hospital's chief operating officer.
Shumate said Unidine has a reputation, particularly on the East Coast, of bring healthy, chef prepared dishes to large institutions.
"They don't believe in processed food," Shumate said. "They do everything they can from scratch. They're making everything from salad dressings to soup from scratch in our kitchens now."
The transition to the new system began in September, and the first changes are becoming evident in the hospital's public and employee cafeteria. The cafeteria now features a specialty meal station where dishes such as stir fries, gourmet salads or Mongolian barbecue are prepared to order. Other healthier offerings also are being made available on the salad bar and a deli sandwich bar.
The cafeteria does still offer a grill where items such as hamburgers and french fries are offered.
"And we can still get bacon," Joe Pedley, the hospital's chief financial officer, assured board members.
Hospital employees and patrons are taking to the healthier options. Shumate said sales at the cafeteria are up almost 30 percent in recent weeks. Hospital officials had anticipated a 20 percent increase in sales. Hospital officials also are finding that many of the fresh products being bought by the kitchen actually are less expensive than the prepared products previously purchased. Between the lower cost of food and the increased sales, Shumate projects that the hospital will save about $300,000 in food and beverage costs.
Board members asked whether the hospital could make the room service option available before mid-2014. But hospital leaders said there is still a lot of information technology work to be done. The room service system will have to be tied into patients' medical charts to ensure that they don't order a food that has been restricted by their physician.
Town Hall Forums
Lawrence Memorial Hospital will host a series of town hall meetings for members of the public to ask questions about the Affordable Care Act. A variety of health care and insurance officials will take part in the forums. All the forums are in the hospital auditorium, 325 Maine. They are set for:
• 7 p.m. Oct. 22
• 3 p.m. Oct. 24
• 1:30 p.m. Nov. 8
A forum was scheduled for Oct. 17, but a hospital spokeswoman said that session has been cancelled.
In other LMH news, board members:
• Agreed to purchase a former ambulance station from Douglas County. The station is on the hospital's campus at Third and Maine streets. The county discontinued use of the station years ago. The hospital has been allowed to use the building for storage and temporary office space, but LMH officials said they now want to buy it so it can be more formally incorporated into LMH's future plans. Board members agreed to the proposed purchase price of $325,000.
• Were updated on efforts to ensure that patients can get their questions answered about the Affordable Care Act. Gene Meyer, the hospital's CEO, said LMH has a contract with Lawrence-based Midland Group to provide assistance with answering question. The Midland Group currently provides assistance to LMH patients needing help enrolling for Medicaid and other programs.