Civil rights lawsuit aims to keep elderly couple together

Noboru and Elaine Kawamoto (Photo courtesy the Kawamoto Family)

The fight continues for an elderly couple forced to live apart during their final years.

Noboru and Elaine Kawamoto were staying at an assisted living facility when his health started to deteriorate.

Because he needs constant care, he’s now living in a care home in Kaneohe, but state law prevents his wife from joining him.

Hawaii state law limits community care foster family homes, which are two- or three-bed nursing facilities that provide 24-hour care to resident patients, to just one non-Medicaid patient per home. Because the Kawamotos are not Medicaid patients, the facility was only able to take Noboru.

There had been numerous failed attempts to change the law, so now the Kawamotos are taking legal action.

A lawsuit is being filed against Gov. David Ige, Hawaii State Director of Health Virginia Pressler, and state Human Services Director Rachel Wong for enforcing laws that have forced the Kawamotos to live in separate nursing care facilities.

“What we’ve done is we’ve challenged this statute after giving the legislature, the governor and the attorney general to remedy this,” said Jeff Portnoy, the Kawamotos’ attorney. “Medicare and Medicaid patients will be protected if they need these beds, but people who have money and are in their 80s and 90s should be not separated in the last years of their lives.”

The lawsuit alleges the Kawamotos’ fundamental right to family integrity is being violated, which is protected by the U.S. Constitution.

In a statement, the attorney general’s office said, “It does not appear that we have yet been served with the complaint. Once we are served with the complaint we will review it and respond appropriately in due course.”

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