Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Biggest Access Dispute So Far

Last week I had an access dispute, by far the most upsetting I've had since getting my SD. I thought I'd share what happened, how I handled it, what's been done to date to deal with it, and I will provide updates as I get them.

This was in a health care setting. I was informed I could not visit a friend in a particular unit and had to wait until they were moved to a private room "because the service dog is not allowed in there."

Me: What? Why not? The Americans with Disabilities Act says if visitors are allowed, I can take my service dog.

Employee: That's what I thought but I am being told we don't allow dogs in there.

Me: But why?

Employee: It's a sterile area.

Me: Oh. So visitors have to change into scrubs and wear masks and gloves and stuff?

Employee: Well, no.

Me: They can wear street clothes?

Employee: Yes.

Me: Then that's not a sterile area. But I'll tell you what. Let's call the ADA Info Line at the Department of Justice and ask them. Here, I have them on speed dial.

Employee: Well, there are other patients in there.

Me: So?

Employee: The doctor doesn't want the dog in there.

Me: My friend's doctor doesn't? May I speak to him, please? He can call the ADA Info Line. They will be happy to explain the federal law to him.

Employee: Well, not that doctor specifically. It's all the doctors. It's just their policy.

Me: Well, the doctors cannot have a policy that violates the federal law. Who can I speak to about this?

Employee: Well, it's the head nurse that is saying service dogs aren't allowed.

Me: May I speak to her? Or how about her supervisor? You are violating my civil rights and you cannot do that.

Employee: Well, I can check again in an hour or so.

Me: No, that's not acceptable. I want to speak to someone right now.

Employee: Let me go check.

So the employee comes back and says I can visit "just for a few minutes."

I ask who I would speak to in order to prevent this from happening again because "discriminating against visitors with disabilities is not OK." I am told I should speak to the patient advocate. I ask for contact information and she says she'll get it for me but she never does. 

I really feel like she did not give it to me on purpose, not that it was just an oversight, but that she did not want me to complain.  Dude, that does not work with me.  I can find that information.

On my way into the unit to visit my friend, a nurse calls out, "Hey! That dog can't come back here!"

I say, "Someone already checked on it and said he could. The Department of Justice also says he can," and continue on my way.

So yesterday I get online and look up a phone number for the patient advocate at this facility. And no, it was not that hard to find.  I call and speak to someone who sounds appropriately concerned.

She says she will need to check because she knows there are certain areas where they can deny access to a SD, like an OR. I say yes, sterile areas, like an OR or a burn unit, where visitors would have to wear special clothing. But on this unit, visitors wore street clothes. I tell her the Dept of Justice says that's not a sterile area and they can't deny access and encourage her to call the ADA Info Line and ask for herself. She thanks me for clearing that up for her, says I answered her question about that.

She tells me she needs to talk to a bunch of people. The employee that denied me access and gave me the run around when I asked who I could speak to about it. The head nurse of the unit my friend was on. The facility's regulatory compliance person. She says that clearly their staff needs to be retrained on the ADA. She asks if she can call me back later in the week to let me know what progress she's made.

What made this access dispute the most upsetting?  Well, it had already been a long, stressful day.  Other employees had been semi-rude or unhelpful - for instance, one refused to give me directions to the cafeteria because it was apparently to hard to explain how to get there. But also, it's not like I could choose to go visit my friend at another health care facility.  They were a patient at this facility.  It's not like if a fast food place denies access and you can just go down the street to another fast food place.

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