This is Psychiatric Service Dog Partners’ service dog information for healthcare professionals of all kinds. We outline service dog access and writing letters for clients.

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.

Of particular note 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).

Veronica gets stitches on her finger with her service dog, Hestia, in her lapIt is important not to overextend this prophylaxis. For example, a location is not likely to be judged a sterile environment merely because workers wear gloves, when patients can wear uncovered street shoes in the same area. In a similar vein, many enthusiastically bureaucratic medical centers risk legal exposure by creating service animal policies that are more restrictive than federal law allows.

See our Laws FAQ and the presentation slides linked farther below for particulars about access laws and how to distinguish service animals from emotional support animals and therapy animals. Our Allergies & Fears article lends a quick primer on worries about accommodating different individuals with “incompatible” disability needs.

For much more detail and reference-supported argumentation on access in healthcare facilities—including hospitals and locked units (psych wards)—see our Access page linked below:
Service dog team access in healthcare facilities

Writing 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 flying accommodation, or some other special purpose.

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.

Below we link to a presentation we’ve given to healthcare professionals (audience evaluations are available). We designed the presentation’s sections on writing letters to be explicit enough to stand alone in educating you about your powers and responsibilities. Therein we provide direct quotations from and links to the relevant legal authorities, so you have zero need to guess at the specific requirements for an acceptable letter. However, in 2020 the Department of Housing and Urban Development offered new guidance about animal-related accommodations for disabled people in housing. We recommend reviewing at this guidance and our Laws FAQ instead of our older presentation section on housing letters.

Further questions

If you can’t find the information you need through our website, or you would like to inquire about a consultation, training, or presentation, please contact us.