International Association of
Assistance Dog Partners
IAADP Opposes DOJ'S Proposed Settlement
New Hospital Policy on Access Leaves Much To Be Desired
The IAADP Board sent the following letters to Bill Lann Lee, Assistant Attorney General, and to John Wodatch, Chief of the Disability Rights Section at the Department of Justice by priority mail, a personal messenger service, fax and email.
The first asks for intervention, the second details what we find objectionable about the proposed hospital policy for service animal access in a settlement the DOJ worked out with John Hopkins. Because this DOJ approved policy will become a model for hospitals across the country if the DOJ's attorney finalizes the settlement with John Hopkins, we believed it was urgent to speak out before it was too late.
Hon. Bill Lann Lee, Assistant Attorney General
United States Department of Justice
Tenth & Constitution Avenues NW, Room 5643
Washington DC 20530
October 30, 2000
Dear Mr. Lee:
The International Association of Assistance Dog Partners is the organization representing members of the disabled community who substantially increase their independence and safety through teamwork with guide, hearing and service dogs.
We wish to call to your attention a proposed settlement by the Department of Justice which, if adopted, would gravely infringe on the civil rights of Americans with disabilities. This vital matter requires immediate attention in order to reverse the settlement negotiated with Johns Hopkins Hospital. If finalized, this settlement would undermine current disability rights legislation and legal rulings. IAADP's objections are detailed in the accompanying letter to John Wodatch.
On behalf of assistance dog teams across the country, we ask you to take immediate action to halt the acceptance of a settlement establishing policy detrimental to those of us selecting assistance dogs to ameliorate aspects of our disabilities.
We appreciate your immediate attention and we make ourselves available to you should you have any questions.
Ed Eames, Ph.D., President
cc: John Wodatch, Wilson Hulley
INTERNATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF ASSISTANCE DOG PARTNERS
October 29, 2000
John Wodatch, Chief
Disability Rights Section
Civil Rights Division
United States Department of Justice
1425 New York Ave NW, Room 4055
Washington, DC 20005
Dear Mr. Wodatch,
As president of the International Association of Assistance Dog Partners, a cross-disability consumer advocacy organization with more than 1,000 members partnered with guide, hearing and service dogs, I have been authorized to indicate IAADP's strong objections to the Department of Justice's negotiated settlement with the Johns Hopkins Hospital concerning access for patients and visitors partnered with assistance dogs.
As consumer advocates, the IAADP board has been working with Nikki Deptula, one of two complainants against the Johns Hopkins Hospital, since the time she was denied the right to have her service dog Ursus with her following surgery. We have worked with Nikki, a member of IAADP, as the complaint filed with the Department of Justice has moved through the resolution process.
IAADP's objection to the proposed settlement is based on several points:
1. The decision to exclude an assistance dog is placed in the hands of medical practitioners who may be unfamiliar with the work done by these dogs, lack knowledge about transmission of diseases from canines to humans, be unfamiliar with Title III of the ADA, have stereotypic attitudes toward the presence of a dog in a medical facility or represent ethnic groups with negative views of assistance dogs;
2. No internal mechanisms are established to mediate disputes arising from a denial of access which may endanger a disabled patient requiring immediate care; and,
3. No appeal process has been put in place to protect the rights of patients and visitors partnered with guide, hearing and service dogs entering Johns Hopkins Hospital.
The major objection we, as assistance dog partners, have to the proposed policy is that any member of the medical staff, with or without knowledge about the work performed by assistance dogs, the potential threat they could cause to health and safety or the rights conferred on us by the Americans with Disabilities Act, can decide to bar a disabled visitor or patient from being accompanied by an assistance dog in any area of the hospital. In a number of hospital access denial cases we are aware of, medical staff have invoked the specter of infection control, zoonotic disease transmission or allergic or phobic patients and staff. Our fear is that under the terms of the proposed settlement, such uninformed and illegal actions will continue at Johns Hopkins hospital and other hospitals incorporating this settlement into their policies.
The language used in the Johns Hopkins Hospital settlement contrasts with the decision by Judge Nan Nolan in the Branson v Department of Veterans Affairs case heard in the Eastern Division of Illinois in 1999. This decision is an important element in case law specifically focused on partnership with assistance dogs. Federal court Judge Nolan notes in her decision: "...qualified medical personnel must identify with specificity the reasons that the service dog would pose a significant health or safety risk , and specify what hazards the service dog would pose that a human being does not pose."
This language provides much greater protection to us than the language used in the proposed Johns Hopkins Hospital settlement. The Johns Hopkins Hospital proposed settlement states: "The only time that a service animal can be excluded from an inpatient room is after the Johns Hopkins Hospital makes an individualized assessment, based on reasonable judgment that *relies on current medical knowledge or on the best available objective evidence, to ascertain: the nature, duration, and severity of the risk; the probability that the potential injury will actually occur; and whether reasonable modifications of policies, practices, or procedures will mitigate the risk." Including the underlined alternative to the use of evidence, as mandated in Judge Nolan's decision, permits Johns Hopkins Hospital medical staff to make decisions based on their views of probability rather than direct evidence as mandated in the Branson case.
In addition, the use of the term "competent" in the Johns Hopkins Hospital settlement, rather than qualified" employed by Judge Nolan opens the issue of whether the medical person making the decision has to be a competent medical practitioner judged by medical peers, or someone qualified to make the decision based on knowledge of the law and work performed by assistance dogs or service animals. We are particularly concerned with this more ambiguous language, since it is our understanding that the policy on service animals negotiated between the Department of Justice and Johns Hopkins Hospital will become a model on which other hospitals will develop similar policies.
What we cannot understand is why the language used in Judge Nolan's decision or the language employed by the Mayo Clinics' policy on service animals, in place for many years, was not used, in this settlement. The Nolan decision language is less ambiguous and provides us, as assistance dog handlers, greater protection from initial denials and greater judicial recourse in actual cases of improper or illegal denial.
Once again, turning to the Branson case, Judge Nolan mandated a staff member be appointed to act in cases of disputes over access denial decisions. She further mandated the education of hospital security employees about the intent of the injunction. In the proposed settlement, Johns Hopkins Hospital takes no responsibility for educating members of the staff about the policy or establishing an internal dispute resolution procedure. In the Branson case, Judge Nolan declared: "identify, by name, within 10 days of the issuance of this judgment, a Lakeside VA facility employee with reporting responsibility to the Lakeside VA director who as part of his or her duties shall be the principal point of contact for issues arising out of the implementation of this order."
If a dispute about the presence of an assistance dog arises in an emergency situation, the health and well-being of both the disabled person and canine assistant could be jeopardized. In fact, part of Nikki Deptula's complaint is that her health was jeopardized when Johns Hopkins Hospital staff refused to permit Ursus in her hospital room.
On its part, the Department of Justice has not put in place a quick-track review process in cases of access denial at Johns Hopkins Hospital. When I raised this issue with Parry Sekus he indicated an assistance dog handler believing the hospital has violated the policy would have to file a complaint with the Department of Justice and await its resolution. This could parallel the time Ms. Deptula has had to wait for action. Another disturbing factor is reports that several additional incidents of access denial by Johns Hopkins Hospital took place while the proposed settlement was being negotiated.
On behalf of Nikki Deptula and the thousands of people with disabilities working with guide, hearing and service dogs, IAADP calls upon the Department of Justice not to accept the proposed settlement until these issues have been addressed. DOJ and IAADP share the goal of providing the greatest protection for the rights of disabled people partnered with assistance dogs guaranteed under Title III of the ADA. The proposed settlement with Johns Hopkins Hospital is not a move in that direction.
Ed Eames, Ph.D., President
cc: Bill Lann Lee
SALUTE TO ADVOCATES WHO RESPONDED TO OUR CALL FOR ACTION
IAADP is profoundly grateful to those who joined us in this advocacy effort.
In particular, we wish to salute Mr.Fred Fay, of the Justice For All network who forwarded copies of our letters to Mr. Lee and Mr. Wodatch along with IAADP's "call to action" to his enormous network of disability rights activists in government circles and in the disabled community at large. In addition, we wish to thank him for his personal letter of support for IAADP's position to Liz Savage at the Department of Justice.
We would also like to salute Wilson Hulley of the Presidents Committee on the Employment of People With Disabilities, for his insightful follow up letter on hospital access policies to Bill Lann Lee and his other contributions.
We are pleased to acknowledge Canine Companions for Independence for taking the time to write a letter of support to the Department of Justice and for sending IAADP a copy of it.
We did not receive copies of the letters sent by others in support of IAADP's position, so we cannot thank each person and organization individually, but please know that you unsung heroes out there did "make a difference" with your efforts.
As we go to press, we were elated to learn from Nikki Deptula, one of the plaintiff's, that the Department of Justice Civil Rights Division received a tremendous outpouring of mail supporting IAADP's objections from disability rights activists and the assistance dog community. Perry Sekus, the attorney negotiating the settlement, told Nikki that because of all the objections, the Civil Rights Division would not allow him to proceed with the settlement. The whole matter is now currently under review. He informed her it is likely the proposed model policy for hospitals will be dropped from the settlement offer.
As everything is still up in the air, we think it is too soon for complacency, but at least it gives the Department of Justice attorneys in the Disability Rights Section the opportunity to revisit this issue and consider the suggested improvements to a hospital access policy for assistance dog teams. We shall keep you posted.
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