During a hospital visit in June 2021, I had a follow-up appointment with one of my specialist doctors. We had been to this location and doctor before and never had any problems. What happened that day was surprising, shocking, and completely unacceptable. It is a good example of the service dog access issues disabled people face far too often.
I went to the visit in my wheelchair as my legs had been unstable. I brought my cardiac support service dog Storm. My partner was the designated service dog handler as I couldn’t handle Storm myself that day. None of this should have been an issue as the ADA Regulations for Service Dogs covers this clearly, but that day it was.
When we arrived, I was in my chair, Storm working to my left and my partner holding Storm’s leash. He was walking to the left of Storm. My partner walked with Storm ahead to the check-in counter, as there was not enough room at the COVID-19 screening station for all of us. He checked me in and was told that Storm could accompany me inside, but my partner could not due to COVID restrictions.
A Hospital Visit Goes Wrong
My partner informed the staff that he is the service dog handler and needs to accompany us also. She stated this was their policy. My partner stated what the law was. She said she was not authorized to decide this matter. We should go to the reception and ask to speak with the office manager. This situation was a bit frustrating but undoubtedly appropriate if the staff is unsure what to do during a hospital visit. So that is what we did.
At the reception, the process was repeated. My partner stated again that he is the service dog handler and needs to accompany us. The receptionist restated their policy. My partner restated the law and that we would like to speak with the office manager. We were asked to take a seat in the waiting room, and the office manager would come to see us.
After about five minutes, an office worker showed up to see us. She wore a green nurse’s outfit while the nurses working with patients all wore blue outfits, so we were unsure if she was an actual nurse or office staff. In any case, my partner asked if he was now cleared to enter as we were still expecting the office manager to talk to us. She said she didn’t know and went back in to check. Several minutes later, she came back and stated my partner could enter this time, but only my service dog and I would be permitted in the future. We informed her that this is certainly not the case, and as the service dog handler, he was always allowed to come along.
The Law Is The Law
She once again stated their policy, to which my partner responded. “Your policy doesn’t invalidate the law.” Yet, she kept arguing. Other people in the waiting room noticed, and we overheard another patient stating, “This is not right.” The office worker was frustrated that we dared to contradict her but wanted to get us out of the waiting room and capitulated for the moment. She probably noticed the other patients taking our side as well. The law is the law. It’s not up for debate. Quite a hospital visit.
Once inside the exam room, she kept arguing with us about their COVID policies. By now, we had stated five times that my partner was the service dog handler and not just there for moral support. A medical nurse stepped in, interrupted the conversation, and wanted to focus on prepping me. When I talked to my partner about this unacceptable treatment, she felt addressed and injected herself into the conversation, complaining that I supposedly raised my voice at her; the interaction did not improve from there. At this point, my heart was racing, Storm was alerting, and I was near a panic attack during this hospital visit. All this is due to office and nursing staff not understanding the ADA law.
It’s A Staff Training Issue
After the nurse left, the office manager showed up to talk to us. I was now in tears from the anxiety, and Storm and my partner had to help me regain composure. Events like this take a heavy, psychological, and physical toll on my body for up to several days after. The office manager got to witness my precarious state. Once I was able to, we explained the sequence of events, and she apologized to us. She was in complete understanding that the law requires the service dog handler to be allowed access and said they would educate their staff on this matter. The office manager spent a fair amount of time with us, and she was understanding and great.
When the doctor came, he also apologized for what had happened. He felt bad about this incident as well.
When you need specialists, moving around to new doctors is not easy. Luckily, this wasn’t an issue on two subsequent visits.