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Dr. George Tanbara, MD

Dr. George Tanbara was a humble man who lived through much to become the person he was – 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. His family was sent to an internment camp during WWII when resentment against the Japanese ran high. There he met his wife, Kimi, who had been relocated to the camp from Tacoma. Dr. Tanbara joined the army, serving as a combat medic. After his stint in the military, he completed medical school at the University of Minnesota. He and Kimi were married and moved to her hometown of Tacoma where he opened a solo pediatric practice.

In 1969, the Public Health Hospital was closed. George worried about what would become of those patients who had so few resources and relied on the Public Health Hospital for health care? He began talking with community leaders who were also concerned, they would incorporate as the Urban Coalition with Jim Walton (later Tacoma City Manager) as its Executive Director. Dr. Tanbara was the medical lead and together they opened two free clinics. One was on the Hilltop in the basement of the Nurses Quarters at St. Joseph’s Hospital, the other in Lister Elementary School in Salishan on the east side.

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. It is an incredible feat, and one which we should honor, cherish and memorialize. Honoring Dr. Tanbara is especially apropos this year, our 50th anniversary of serving Pierce County patients.