Hometown Heroes: Kona Community Hospital ICU nurse fights pandemic with empathy

  • Liza Tanabe has been a bright influence at Kona Community Hospital as the coronavirus pandemic has progressed in Hawaii. (Courtesy photo/West Hawaii Today)

Editor’s note: Each Wednesday, West Hawaii Today is publishing a story about individuals, groups or organizations that have helped make life better for others in our community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the age of COVID-19, stress and concern are widespread.


Perhaps nowhere else is there more concern than inside a hospital intensive care unit (ICU). With so much uneasiness in the face of fighting a pandemic day after day, a ray of positivity coming from someone can make a huge difference in the lives of those around them.

Inside the Kona Community Hospital’s ICU, that positivity often comes from ICU nurse Liza Tanabe.

At a time when the Kealakekua hospital is in a tough situation, testing every employee after three cases were confirmed at the facility, Tanabe endures as a bright influence.

“She remains a true hero, reporting back to work with a smile on her face, accepting the risks that comes with the job because that is who she is,” said Pauline Manijo. “She is dedicated to the core in caring for people with compassion and kindness.”

Even before the positive tests emerged from Kona Community Hospital, Tanabe insisted that containing a potential outbreak to the hospital was one of the most difficult aspects of the job. Separating from family and friends was simply something that a nurse had to be willing to do.

“That’s the sacrifice we have to make as nurses, and not just us nurses but the whole hospital,” said Tanabe. “It’s part of my job.”

Her positivity, while important inside the hospital, extends well beyond the walls of her workplace. While many wouldn’t fault her for wanting to separate her job from her personal life, those surrounding Tanabe point out how often her traits that make her a good a caretaker follow her in everyday life.

“She knows how to carry over her ability to empathize with people even though they’re not in a hospital atmosphere,” said Janice Asentista. “She’s always asking, ‘How are you doing? Are you OK? What can I do to help?’ … Even when things may not be going well, she always seems to try to look at the better side: encouragement, comfort, support. To find people like that now is hard, especially now.”

While that may seem to be going above and beyond, Tanabe still considers it as essential to the job. She sees the same compassion in those she works with every day.

“When you’re in this kind of career, you have to have that compassion,” said Tanabe. “You have to have that heart to be a nurse.”

As Hawaii pushes through the uncertainty of a pandemic, Tanabe’s advice for getting through this as a community is simple: have compassion and just help out one another.


“If we’re not going to help out each other, we’re always going to be in this pandemic,” she said.

Know a Hometown Hero that should be highlighted next Wednesday? It can be anybody, from a youngster doing good for the community, to a professional helping with the COVID-19 pandemic, or even a kupuna! Please send your nominations to cjensen@westhawaiitoday.com with the subject: Hometown Heroes Nomination. Please include the hero’s name, contact information and what makes them a hero.

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