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Dear Editor,

I am writing in response to Feb. 20  “Letter to the Editor: HRRMC Clarifies Policies on ADA” regarding the article Service Dog Dispute appears to pit Americans with Disabilities Act Against HRRMC Policy posted by Jan Wondra on Feb 17, 2020.

In that Feb. 20 letter to the editor, Bob Morasko, CEO at Heart of the Rockies Regional Medical Center stated, “HRRMC is committed to fully complying with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), including its provisions related to service animal access. HRRMC welcomes and urges any patient, guest or visitor with a disability who accesses our facilities and believes his or her ADA rights may have been violated, to bring such concerns to our attention. We are more than willing to meet with such persons to promptly address such issues because we are fully committed to complying with the law.”

Steve Brandon’s service dog Salut at HRRMC cardio rehab on Feb. 24, 2020. Courtesy photo.

When the incident of February 11, 2020 happened, I immediately notified the hospital operator by phone stating I wanted to file an ADA violation and HIPPA violations that took place while receiving care at the hospital.

February 12, 2020 at precisely 11:55 am, Juanita Ward left a message on my cell phone for which I have a record. She stated (and I quote verbatim so there is can be no confusion or attempt at a slippery slope argument), “I am looking forward to a phone call. It sounds like we have some opportunity here. I talked with the manager of the OR yesterday and made sure he realizes we didn’t handle this correctly.”

I called her direct phone line not once but twice; a second phone call on Feb. 13 and a final call on Feb. 14.

In response, HRRMC spokesperson Ward says (as quoted in the Feb. 20 article) that the hospital is not ignoring the situation. “We take these allegations very seriously. We have opened an internal investigation and we will follow up with the gentleman who has issued the formal complaint regarding hospital policy.” -Feb. 17 article.

Unfortunately, 13 days later and the hospital administration and CEO have failed to contact me to resolve this matter.

It is important to understand that formal complaints with the ADA occur at an astounding rate and for this reason, Title 2 complaint forms ask the question and I quote, “Have efforts been made to resolve this complaint through the internal grievance procedure of the government, organization or institution?”

It’s very challenging when you are the only one returning phone calls. If HRRMC truly wishes to be compliant with ADA Service Dog Access Rights, as they allege in the February 20 article, the courtesy of a phone call, as they say they are willing to do, will be appreciated so we can all move past this and change the hospital’s policy to be “in compliance” with ADA law.

It would also do well for hospital administration and staff to understand that “service dogs” — NOT, therapy dogs, NOT emotional support dogs — are protected by the ADA.

Having stated that, therapy dogs and emotional support dogs provide an invaluable service to their handlers and the community at large. Well trained, certified Therapy Dogs and ESA’s are an invaluable asset to hospitals, doctor offices and educational facilities in the 21st century.

Finally, it is common sense, if not expressly clear that Service Dogs  NOT be permitted into sterile room such as surgery and burn units; in fact we appreciate that you enforce this. Please refer to page 2 under the subheading “Where Service Animals Are Allowed.”

Having a service dog is an awesome and emotionally draining responsibility; prepping them and gearing them up for the day ahead sometimes working very long hours. Those of us that have legitimate service dogs are thankful we have them, but wish we didn’t need them. Our goal is to  receive fair and equal access to treatment, goods and services that are otherwise made available to individuals who are not disabled.

Steve Brandon

Buena Vista