The days of lukewarm hospital food delivered at just the wrong time are long gone at Ashland Community Hospital.

With the help of Ashland restaurant consultants Emile and Karen Amarotico, the hospital launched a new restaurant-style room service where patients can order a meal or snack any time between 6:30 a.m. and 7 p.m. &

even breakfast for dinner if they like.

In the past, meals were served three times a day, at 8 a.m., noon and 5 p.m., whether the patients were hungry or not, said Rebecca Fowler, who manages the hospital's dietary services.

"We want our patients to be able to choose what they want to eat, when they want to eat it," she said. "It's good patient care."

The new system will ensure food doesn't get cold waiting to be delivered, the biggest patient complaint under the old system, Fowler said. It also allows more choices for patients with dietary restrictions. Every menu item lists the carbohydrate count and many entr&

233;es have vegetarian versions.

The menu is heavy on healthy Mediterranean-style dishes, including hummus wraps, salads and a Mediterranean pasta toss. More traditional fare such as hamburgers, garden burgers and peanut butter and jelly are available as well, all made fresh to order. The hospital uses about the same amount of organic food as it did before the switch, Fowler said.

The system took three months to develop, with everything from a new menu to a complete kitchen overhaul. They chose recipes with similar ingredients to speed the preparation and guarantee meal delivery within 30 minutes of the patients' orders.

"I've been waiting to cook for three months and to see all those details making it much smoother," Karen Amarotico said.

The hospital did not need to hire any new employees, instead investing in intensive training for all kitchen staff. After a few months, Fowler said she expects costs to decrease because less food will be wasted.

In the first week of the program, patients seemed to enjoy the added variety of their mealtimes.

James Auchincloss, 61, had hip replacement surgery during the first week of the program. He said he was pleasantly surprised how good the food was, declaring the Greek-style hummus wrap his favorite so far. He also sampled the grilled cheese sandwich, grilled steak, chicken salad and three types of teas during his stay.

"I think it's a very good idea," he said, particularly with stories his friends told of hospital visits in years past.

"People would dream of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and have their wives sneak them in," he said.

Now, patients can have the sandwich of their dreams hand-delivered all day long, with no need for secrecy.

Staff writer can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 227 or .