Nala ‘saved my life,’ but hospital threatened to send service dog to the pound, owner says

Miami Herald | Josh Magness

Without her service dog, Nala, Nicole Sorchinski says she isn’t sure whether she’d still be around today.

“She saved my life on three different occasions,” 27-year-old Sorchinski told CBS in an interview. She says she started to suffer seizures after a car crash three years ago.

Nala, a pit bull, is trained to detect the woman’s seizures, according to News12. The dog realized that Sorchinski was beginning to have a seizure on Saturday, she says, so a friend called paramedics, who rushed the woman to Ocean Medical Center in Brick, New Jersey.

But when they arrived at the hospital, Sorchinski says, a nurse there refused to let Nala stay inside the hospital — and threatened to send the service dog to the pound, according to NJ.com.

The nurse gave Sorchinski just 15 minutes to remove Nala from the emergency room, she told NJ.com, leaving her feeling uncomfortable.

“They weren’t even concerned about my seizure, they were concerned about the dog,” she said. “I felt unsafe, like if this is how they’re going to treat my service dog, how will they treat me in my care?”

Sorchinski she had proper documentation for Nala, who was wearing a service dog jacket, according to CBS. But the nurse refused to let Nala stay at the hospital, the dog’s owner said, so Sorchinski decided to leave the hospital with her dog and without seeing a doctor.

“I offered to show her the credentials,” Sorchinski said, according to CBS. “She just didn’t want to have anything to do with it. She just kept saying it was hospital policy.”

Anne Green — a spokeswoman for Hackensack Meridian Health, which runs Ocean Medical Center — told the Asbury Park Press in a statement that “we are deeply sorry for the experience expressed by our patient while visiting our emergency department.”

“We are currently reviewing the situation,” it read, “to make certain protocols properly protect our patients and their service animals.

“While our goal is to keep patients and their service animals together whenever possible, there are situations where our team members must focus on providing the highest quality care for our patients,” the statement said, according to the Asbury Park Press. “During this time, we believe it’s important to ensure there is someone that can care for the service animal while we provide care to our patients.”

Despite the apology, Nala’s owner said she isn’t interested in having a conversation with officials at the hospital.

“I have nothing to say,” she said, according to NJ.com. “It’s not even like they’re apologizing. They’re just doing damage control.

“They don’t care and that’s what bothers me.”

Chris Sweet, technical assistant at Northeast ADA Center at Cornell University, said that while the Americans with Disabilities Act allows service animals to be kept out of operating rooms, there is no rule that they are not allowed inside emergency rooms, according to the Asbury Park Press.

“They need to be under control of the owner; in most cases that means they need to be harnessed or leashed, and they need to behave,” he said, according to the Asbury Park Press. “It’s not unheard of where medical facilities aren’t trained enough under the law to understand the rights of service dogs and their owners.”

Sorchinski told the Absury Park Press that she did have Nala on a leash. By telling her own story, she said, she hopes to raise awareness about rules on service animals to make sure other people can keep them by their side in situations like this.

For Sorchinski, being forced to part with her service dog is a deal-breaker, she told News12 in an interview. 
 

“Nala is almost as important as the medication I take every day because I am on a regimen…of medications and she comes everywhere with me,” she said, according to News12. “If I don’t have her it’s like not taking my medication.”