CAPE CORAL, FLA — Update as of 7/16/21:
The Hawthornes returned to Golisano Children's this morning for their son's surgery. They said they were initially told that they'd be met at the door with a staff member who'd need to see the dog's vaccination paperwork. Ultimately, they say that confrontation didn't happen, but they went ahead and printed the service dog's records just in case.
"To make the process a little bit smoother, I even brought the vaccinations they wanted just for them to see. That was the main thing that they wanted. Even though they're not supposed to ask for them, I brought it so it wouldn't be a problem," said Jessica Hawthorne.
According to a 2019 Lee Health employee training guide, there are a few questions concerning service animals that employees are not allowed to ask of guests, due to possible HIPAA violations. And yet a Cape Coral couple says a security guard asked them that last week at Golisano Children's Hospital.
"He was like 'What's the reason for the service dog and what's your disability? Why do you need a service dog?," said Zachary Hawthorne, "We were both a little taken aback."
A cellphone recording of the incident shows that when they wouldn't provide that information, things got heated.
"They kept asking for paperwork, paperwork, you need proof. We said 'Here's an ID that says he's a service dog and also that you're not allowed to ask these questions. He goes 'I don't want to see that, I don't care,'" said Zachary.
The dog in question, three-year-old Bruce, officially became Jessica Hawthorne's service dog in the Fall of 2020 after nine months of training.
She says he helps with the PTSD that she developed while serving.
"When I get triggered or I have a panic attack he'll lay in front of us. Both of us. Even though he's my service animal. He'll also lay beside us and give us hugs," she said.
The Hawthornes are both veterans and say they this is the first time since Bruce has been certified, that they've ever had a problem.
And they add that they were in the hospital in the first place because their infant son needs surgery.
[I] brought him to the hospital to help with my anxiety and they made it worse. As I was leaving I said ' thank you for triggering my PTSD.' Because they did," said Jessica.
Lee Health released the following statement on the incident:
Lee Health welcomes all vaccinated service animals. In accordance with state and federal law, Lee Health requests that all service animals that visit our facilities undergo state-required vaccination and that the animal’s owners have the appropriate vaccination documentation available upon request for the health and safety of our patients.
The Hawthornes say their dog couldn't be certified unless he was vaccinated and they have the IDs to prove his certification status.
On top of that, according to that 2019 training manual, that's also a question employees are instructed not to ask.
The Hawthornes say they're now on edge because their son's surgery was rescheduled for Friday meaning they have to go back.
"She's gonna take him back because she needs him there," said Zachary.
"I don't wanna be harassed again," said Jessica.