Dental and Medical Counsel Blog

How to Stay ADA Compliant When Building or Updating a Dental Practice

July 29, 2020
How to Stay ADA Compliant When Building or Updating a Dental Practice

The Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) is a federal law that was enacted in 1990. The goal of the legislation is to prohibit discrimination against individuals who have disabilities. It applies to every aspect of life, including schools, transportation, employment, and more. It even applies to all public and private locations that are open to the public. That includes dental practices.

When you are building a dental practice, whether it is for the first time or when you are remodeling, compliance with the ADA may not be the first thing on your mind. However, it is extremely important from a legal perspective.

We have included some need-to-know ADA compliance information that you should be thinking about as you are building or updating your dental practice.

Why Is ADA Compliance Important for a Dental Practice?

Federal Legal Requirements

It is important to note that compliance with the ADA is more than just good practice. It is legally required. The ADA permits individuals to sue the building owner or occupying tenants if their facility does not meet ADA requirements. That means that dentists may end up having to defend a legal claim if they failed to follow the ADA’s rules and regulations.

If the plaintiff (the person bringing the lawsuit) wins their case, then the dental practice will have to pay for the damages that the person suffered, their attorney fees, and costs related to the lawsuit. You may also have to make physical changes to your location after the case gets started, too.

It is certainly a lot more cost-effective to ensure that your property is built out correctly while it is in development or while you are doing a remodel.

Creating a Welcoming Environment for Patients

It is also critical that your patients who may have disabilities feel welcome and can easily get into your office location. Tailoring your facility to these particular patients is not only legally required, but it also opens your doors to a whole new section of people that you may not have otherwise been able to help.

How Can a Dental Practice Prevent Issues with Non-Compliance?

The ADA has very specific requirements that set out what businesses must have to comply with federal law. The most important aspect of the ADA is access. Those patients who have disabilities must be able to access your place of business and move about your office, even if they have mobility concerns or limitations.

One of the best ways that you ensure compliance with the ADA is to speak with an experienced attorney who knows the ADA laws. He or she will be able to sit down with you (and potentially even your building contractor) to help you create a list of accessibility considerations you need to plan before you start construction. Having this conversation now, before building begins, can save you thousands of dollars in construction costs compared to re-doing the work later.

If you have already built or you are in the process of building, you may want to halt work so that a dental attorney can audit the location. Your lawyer will be able to review your plans and layout to help you decide what you need to change immediately to be ADA-compliant.

What If My Dental Practice Leases Space from Someone Else?

Even if you lease space from someone else, you are still expected to comply with ADA requirements. That means that you may need to make adjustments to your leased space that you may not have considered when you signed the lease or, in some cases, even when the building was first developed.

Before you sign your lease, you should include ADA improvement costs as part of your budget or tenant improvement allowance. A dental attorney will be able to help you negotiate this portion of your lease agreement on your behalf.

If your landlord is unwilling to make changes or help you make changes, then it may be a good idea to speak with an attorney. Your lawyer can help you get out of your lease agreement so you can build your dental practice elsewhere or re-negotiate the contract so that you can make the changes you need to make to comply with federal law.

Even if your landlord is unwilling to work with you, it is not a good idea to continue to operate your practice when you know (or even suspect) that the layout does not follow ADA standards. Talk to a dental attorney about what your legal options may be.

Examples of ADA Improvements

The ADA sets out an array of very specific requirements that every business must meet. Although we cannot provide a complete listing, below are a few examples of the types of changes that may be necessary for your dental practice to be ADA-complaint.

  • Handicapped parking
  • Installing an elevator or ramps
  • Widening halls and doorways
  • Adding handicap-accessible restrooms and drinking fountains
  • Decreasing the height of curbs in certain areas
  • Ensuring you have appropriate flooring surfaces
  • Using proper signage for the visually impaired
  • Altering counter top height
  • Changing shelving or coat rack height

Keep in mind that these changes need to be implemented in any location where the public has access. Some of the most common areas are entry areas, waiting rooms, treatment rooms, restrooms, and business offices.

State laws often affect these requirements, as well. In many cases, state laws are even more demanding than the ADA.

Estimating Costs of ADA Improvements

The costs of ADA improvements will vary widely depending on what kind of changes you are making. Below are just a few examples.

  • Adding a wheelchair lift: $15,000 to $25,000
  • Adding an elevator: $20,000 to $100,000
  • Adding a wheelchair ramp $5,000 to $20,000
  • Creating an ADA-approved bathroom: $1,000 to $10,000 (depending on the current structure of the restroom)

Costs are higher if you have to add these items compared to just altering your dental practice design when you are doing an initial build out. Being proactive at the outset will help you save time and money.

Getting Help with ADA Compliance

Understanding all of the requirements of the ADA is difficult. However, you must meet the minimum rules and regulations to comply with this federal law. Dental and Medical Counsel can help you work through your new dental practice design while you are building or planning. Our team can introduce you to a specialist that can perform an audit of your current facility to ensure that you do not have any accessibility issues that need immediate attention.

Do not make the mistake of waiting until someone files a lawsuit to think about ADA compliance. A new building or renovation of your dental practice is the perfect time to be proactive about accessibility. Dental and Medical Counsel can be an excellent resource as you work through the building and planning process. Set up an appointment with our team today by calling: 925-999-8200 or clicking below.

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