ADA Case About Nurse's Service Dog in Hospital
Editor: I think you all know that I'm a pretty firm supporter of the
ADA, but that I also think people sometimes try to apply the ADA in
inappropriate situations. Here's a case that I've had to think long and
hard about, and I'm still not entirely sure where I stand. If some of
you would like to offer your opinions, I'll do a follow-up article on
this intriguing case.
Thanks to the Olathe News and Leonard Hall for permission to reprint
Reader's responses follow the article
By Leonard Hall
An interesting ADA case appeared in California, where a hard of
hearing nurse claimed she was forced to resign from after the hospital
failed to accommodate her need for a service dog to help her perform her
job duties as a nurse. She filed the lawsuit against the hospital,
alleging the hospital refused to accommodate her disability.
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employer is
required to provide reasonable accommodation for employees with
disabilities to perform their jobs. For many hard of hearing employees,
it may be a matter of acquiring a TDD, installing flashing light system,
providing assistive listening devices for easier communication, and
several other things to allow the employees to perform their work.
In this case, the Hospital failed to allow accommodation of a service
dog for the hard of hearing employee to perform her work.
Even with a lawsuit, the hospital refused to accept the nurse's
resignation and is exploring options to accommodate her needs. Hospital
staff said that the hospital is in the process of doing a study to
determine what areas of the hospital could accommodate a service dog.
It is difficult to find certain places in the hospital to allow an
employee to work with a service dog. When you bring an animal into a
hospital, there are health and safety issues.
At least the hospital is trying as it has accommodated three other
nurses with disabilities in 2002.
The problem arises is the timing of the owner receiving the service
dog that requires continuous training in the home and work environment
and receiving the accommodations at the hospital. The hospital was not
prepared to accept the service dog to accommodate the nurse in her work.
After the nurse got the dog, she received a letter from the hospital
telling her not to bring the dog to the hospital. She was placed on
indefinite unpaid leave.
For training of a service dog, it is more than picking up it at the
training facility and bringing it home. The new owner has to continue
with the training for the dog at home and work. In this case, the nurse
contacted the hospital months before about the need to provide
accommodation for her and the service dog to work at the hospital.
The nurse said the dog would help her by signaling her when people
are talking to her and with other normal things such as bells, timers,
sounds, and people approaching her.
She could not leave the dog at home during the critical training
period, so she submitted her letter of resignation. The nurse said she
needs the dog in order to work and needs to work to keep the dog
trained, as the dog is required to be with her at all times.
It was unfortunate the hospital did not realize several months before
that it should take immediate action to find another position at the
hospital. However, it is difficult to find any place at a large hospital
to allow service dog or service dog that would meet the safety and
(Leonard Hall writes columns on the deaf community and can be reached
Copyright 2003 Olathe News
Last week we published a story about a nurse who wanted to take her
hearing dog to work with her in a hospital. The hospital administration
refused to allow her to do that, claiming health concerns among other
things. I asked for your thoughts and got several well-considered
One reader agreed with the hospital. She wrote:
"I feel that the nurse is wrong to expect this. I too worked in
various health care settings and cannot imagine such an accommodation.
There are enough techno gadgets and certainly personnel training/skills
at such sites so that I have trouble thinking the nurse is truly that
needy. Regarding training such a dog in that setting it seems needless
since the animal does not belong there. Also, some setting would expose
the animal to danger...hospitals are not actually "safe"...you
have disease, danger from equipment movement, personnel focused on
tasks/patients needs ...as well as those people who suffer from
emotional distress, mental illness etc. Time for that nurse to truly
utilize other means of meeting her job requirements."
Sharon Campbell, M.A. (email@example.com), a Certified Safety
Professional, disagrees. She replied:
"The 'health and safety' issues of having a dog in the hospital
are not so severe. They let 'therapy dogs' in for regular visits. These
dogs are properly vaccinated, trained and, presumably, clean when they
come to visit patients. The only diseases they pass to humans are
rabies, and some infections if they bite. Simply breathing around a dog
isn't enough to make anyone ill unless they have severe allergies. Dogs
are often residents at nursing homes. My bet? Someone in the back office
said, 'but if we let HER do it everyone will want to!'
"With the nurse shortage, I can't imagine how that
administration can afford to throw her away.
"I don't think her request was at all unreasonable, and hope she
pursues her career with a better employer."
And finally, Loretta Butler of Tucson, comes down somewhere in the
middle. She says:
"When first reading the article about the nurse being denied to
have her service dog on the job with her, I thought that decision is
probably appropriate. I assumed this meant the dog would accompany her
into patient's rooms as she took care of them. Probably some patients
would object to having a dog in their room.
"Then I wondered if patients are allowed to have their service
dogs accompany them in the hospital, particularly if the patient is
blind and needs a service dog to get around.
"Looking at it from the dog's point of view though, I think the
dog would be over-taxed with the noises on a hospital ward. All the
dings, bells, telephone rings, intercom messages, etc. would be
confusing to the animal who is trained to alert its master to such
goings on. Also the nurse would be constantly alerted to all those above
sounds that probably would not apply to her. The dog would not be able
to distinguish which sounds to alert her to and which to not alert her
I guess we've covered all possible positions ;-}
I'll be sure to pass on whatever I learn concerning the disposition
of this case.