This is Psychiatric Service Dog Partners’ service dog information for healthcare professionals of all kinds. We cover service dog access, writing letters for clients, service dogs in locked units, allergies and fears, and the main laws in effect, all with linked resources.
Service dog access in healthcare settings
Our service dog resources for businesses also apply to those in healthcare, since most healthcare settings qualify as places of public accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations. Generally, service animal users must be permitted with their service animals in healthcare settings the same as in any other place the public is allowed; this is considered a reasonable accommodation.
In some healthcare settings, though, is that there are limits to what constitutes a “reasonable accommodation”. For instance, hospital personnel are not required to permit a service dog access with their user in a truly sterile field, such as in an operating theater (though there are competing reasons a surgeon may choose to permit this).
It is important not to embellish what counts as sterile. For example, a location is not likely to legally count as a sterile environment just because workers wear gloves, when patients can wear uncovered street shoes in the same area. On the administrative front, over-eager policymakers risk legal exposure by creating service animal policies that are more restrictive than federal law allows.
The CDC explains these concepts in its July 2019 Environmental Infection Control Guidelines (PDF); see p. 123–125.
Writing service dog letters for clients
Healthcare workers who are in the medical field and those who treat mental illness non-medically may have patients/clients who ask for a letter regarding their animal. This may be for their own records, a housing accommodation, a workplace accommodation, or some other special purpose. See our service dog letter templates page for info on how to write these letters.
As a healthcare professional, you serve as a special bridge between people with disabilities and their rights under disability law. It’s important to develop a passable understanding of the niche laws surrounding this role, so that you neither unwittingly block disabled clients from accessing their rights, nor glibly grant access to such rights when it is inappropriate. This is not to be left to the online market.
Locked units and legal reasoning
For much more detail on how access works in healthcare facilities like hospitals and locked units (psych wards)—see our access page. This page provides reference-supported argumentation on how access should work in unusual settings.
Allergies and fears
Disabling allergies and fears are neither greater nor less than disabilities that require a service dog. Our Allergies & Fears article lends a quick primer on worries about accommodating different individuals with “incompatible” disability needs.
Main US laws in play and their latest developments
In 2020, the US federal guidance on housing and laws on flying were updated. The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) guidance simplified the procedure for getting animal-related accommodations for disabled people in housing under the Fair Housing Act (FHAct), especially for service dog users. The Department of Transportation (DOT) flying law update—which became effective in early 2021—eliminated the need for documentation from healthcare professionals under the Air Carrier Access Act (ACAA).
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) addresses workplace accommodations in a general way, and no documentation can be required for general public access with a service animal under Titles II and III of the ADA and Section 504 of the Rehab Act (covering, in order, state and local governments, places of public accommodation, and federal/federally-funded properties).
Our Laws FAQ provides more resources, including legal references but also distinctions among common terms people use (“service dog”, “emotional support animal”, “therapy dog”, etc.).
If you can’t find the information you need through our website, we have you covered. Please contact us to inquire about a consultation, training, or presentation, such as our 2017 presentation to healthcare professionals (with available audience evaluations).