Dr. George Tanbara was a humble man who lived through many hardships to become the leader and founder of Community Health Care and Pediatrics Northwest, and an inspiration to those who want to use their time and talents to serve the community where they live.

George was a 2nd generation Japanese American born in Portland Oregon in 1922, member of the USC tennis team, and graduate of the Pharmacy program at the University of Idaho. Not long after that, he and his family were sent to an internment camp during WWII when resentment against the Japanese ran high. 

From the years 1942 to 1945, the U.S. government mandated that people of Japanese descent, even if they were U.S. citizens, were to be incarcerated in isolated camps.Can you imagine what that might be like? Forced to leave your home and belongings behind and live in a government camp which in many ways wasn’t much more than a prison, all because your family heritage came from a particular country.

Even after that terrible experience in the internment camp, Dr. Tanbara did not become bitter. He joined the army, serving as a combat medic to support the very country that had imprisoned him and his family because of the color of their skin. And he didn’t stop there. After the war, he completed medical school at the University of Minnesota, and then moved to Tacoma, Washington where he opened a solo pediatric practice.

Dr. George Tanbara, 1960’s – Image from: https://www.historylink.org/file/20721

Many years later in 1969, George had another opportunity to demonstrate the courage, resilience, and selfless service that had defined him. The local Public Health Hospital was closing, and George worried about what would become of those patients who had so few resources and relied on that hospital for health care. He began talking with community leaders who were also concerned, and together they opened two free clinics. 

The two free clinics they established were the humble beginning of what is today, Community Health Care (CHC) serving 46,000 patients. CHC owns five Health Centers offering medical, dental, pharmacy, behavioral health, maternity support, and substance abuse, along with an Urgent Care at the Hilltop location and prompt care at the other four.

From its inception, and until his passing in July 2017, Dr. Tanbara was not only on the Community Health Care Board of Directors and active in influencing the growth of the organization, but his singular mantra of, “Put the Patient First” has been this organization’s soul and focus. He believed that access to healthcare was a basic human need and right.

George’s impact on Pierce County Health is now responsible for the health and well-being of nearly 100,000 patients a year all around Puget Sound. His example of selflessly dedicating his life to serving and uplifting others in any way he could is a powerful reminder of why healthcare exists as an industry in the first place. 

* Image credit: https://www.historylink.org/file/20721 Source material: Commhealth.org

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