January 18, 2024

We are developing a hospital-wide animal visitation policy.  What are some things we need to consider including so that we are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act?

This is a great policy to have.  We all love animals, but it’s important to make sure that you take the necessary steps to identify the proper use of service animals and acceptable visitation rules for therapy animals.  Today, let’s focus on service animals.  Under the ADA, covered entities, like most hospitals, are required to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities.  The service animal rule falls under this requirement.  In other words, places that have a “no animals allowed” policy provide an exception that allows service animals in their facility.

What is a service animal?  Well, it is a dog of any breed that has been trained to work or perform a task for an individual with a disability.  For example, a person with a panic disorder may have a dog that is trained to sense an upcoming panic attack and to help lessen its impact.

When building an animal visitation policy, you want to include a section that considers service animals and sets out general rules for your staff to follow.  For instance, when it is unclear as to whether a dog in your facility is a service animal, your staff may not inquire into the nature of the person’s disability, may not ask for documentation, and may not require that the dog perform its trained task.  Rather, your staff may only ask (1) if the dog is a service animal that is required because of a disability and (2) what work or tasks has the dog been trained to perform.

If the patient requires basic assistance from staff, then staff may be required to accompany the patient while they attend to their service animal (i.e., taking their dog for a walk, but requiring a wheelchair).  Under the ADA, the patient, or service animal handler, bears full responsibility for the dog and must be in control of it at all times.  This includes making arrangements to pass the dog off to family members, or even boarding the dog, in the event that the patient is unable to provide the necessary care.

Make sure to review the ADA regulations governing service animals in detail, and feel free to reach out to Mary Paterni with any additional questions.