Dr. Maneesh Batra, New Interim Neonatology Chief, Aims to Improve Access to Care for Babies Everywhere

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Dr. Maneesh Batra’s experience with babies in low-resource countries fed his passion to focus on neonatal care and public health.

Dr. Maneesh Batra, the new interim chief of neonatology at Seattle Children’s, first became interested in neonatology when he was working as a resident in Ugandan hospitals in 2002. He witnessed the incredible sorrow on the faces of mothers whose babies were failing to thrive.

“It was striking to me how much the providers and the families wanted to give those babies hope,” Batra said. “The moms were bringing their babies there to give them a chance at survival, and most of them were dying. It felt really wrong and unfair.”

When Batra returned to the U.S., he found it hard to shake those images from his mind. It ultimately led him to converge two of his interests — neonatal care and global health — with the mission of helping improve access to care for all babies everywhere.

“It hit me in a very personal way,” Batra said. “I knew then that this is something I wanted to work on. I told myself, ‘This is a place I want to be. I want to combine my love of neonatology, critical care and public health.”

And so, he did.

A focus on improving the health of babies

Stepping into the role as interim chief, Batra says he’s incredibly honored to lead the division and is grateful for all those who came before him. As a leader, Batra hopes to emulate the qualities of the mentors who helped shape him.

“I had leaders who supported their teams and brought out the best in people,” said Batra. “I hope to do the same. I want people to feel seen and heard.”

Batra did his residency and fellowship at the University of Washington School of Medicine and earned his Master of Public Health at UW’s School of Public Health. He was previously the associate director of the Pediatric Residency Program at Seattle Children’s and is a professor of pediatrics in the division of neonatology and global health.

Batra has also consulted for the World Health Organization and the U.S. Agency for International Development and is currently collaborating as a senior newborn health consultant for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to build a strategy to advance the care for newborns globally.

Strengthening areas of excellence

For more than a decade, U.S. News & World Report has consistently ranked Seattle Children’s Neonatology Program among the top neonatology programs in the country. Batra says he is excited to help strengthen areas of excellence within the division, including three specific areas:

  • Neonatal Neurosciences
  • Simulation and Education
  • Global Health

Neonatal neurosciences

Seattle Children’s neonatal neurocritical care program (NeuroNICU) is the only such program in Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho. Serving families in a territory of more than one million square miles, Seattle Children’s NeuroNICU provides multi-disciplinary, brain-focused care for babies born with or at risk for brain injury and malformations.

Batra believes that optimizing neurodevelopmental outcomes is among the broadest-reaching initiatives that can occur in neonatology.

Approximately one-third of neonatal deaths around the globe result from premature birth. Babies born preterm are among the smallest and most at risk for neurodevelopmental impairments, according to Batra. He hopes to address the challenges these babies may face with their neurodevelopment, which will ultimately affect the trajectory of their lives.

“We need to focus our efforts beyond survival,” Batra said. “Helping children thrive. That’s what really matters. We need to ask ourselves, ‘Who are they going to be when they are school age? Are they going to be able to speak, run, hear and play?’ For me, neonatal neuroprotection and advances in neonatal neurosciences are part of improving survival and ensuring children thrive.”

Simulation and education

Seattle Children’s has among the strongest neonatology simulation and education experts in the country. The program uses simulation-based practices to improve the competence and performance of healthcare providers in high-risk and rare clinical situations. The simulation team strives to make the experience as realistic as possible. Teams use a state-of-the-art, high-fidelity pediatric simulation mannequin from the Seattle Children’s Learning and Simulation Center to assess and obtain crucial feedback on conditions like chest compressions. The primary goal is to provide safe patient care and improve patient outcomes.

“We can create high fidelity simulated environments where providers can be put through scenarios to give them experience,” says Batra. “So, when rare and potentially life-threatening events happen, they have some ability to rely on experience. It’s similar to what the astronauts go through when they simulate different kinds of problems that could occur in space.”

Some examples of the rare events the team simulates include using a machine to do the work of the babies’ heart and lungs, practicing extracorporeal life support (ECLS), as well as simulating responses to catastrophic pump failure, transfusion, massive hemorrhage and difficult airways.

In addition, Seattle Children’s has executed the largest-scale extracorporeal CPR simulations in the nation. ECPR is an incredibly rare, technical event. It involves a large team of more than 20 nurses, doctors, surgeons and other specialists who must work seamlessly together – very quickly – in order to save a patient’s life.

Global health

Seattle Children’s is fortunate to have a large number of neonatologists who are recognized leaders in neonatal global health. They apply their skills and experience to discover new treatments and cures and deliver the very latest, best treatments available to children in low-resource settings.

Over the years, Batra has been a leader in helping residents explore global health initiatives and has been involved with accreditation efforts for global health fellowships nationally as well.

Batra wants to apply lessons learned in under-resourced settings to high-resourced settings, and apply lessons learned in high-resourced settings to under-resourced settings.

“One day, it won’t be called global health,” Batra said. “It will simply be health. We need to make sure we’re breaking down colonial structures and balancing resources and access to care for all — equitably. We serve a quarter of the land mass of the U.S. We take great pride and have a responsibility to do the right thing for all our patients —from small rural villages in Alaska and beyond to higher-resourced areas. We’re here to do the right thing for all.”

Batra hopes that all neonatology work at Seattle Children’s will be squarely rooted in health equity.

“If we want to be brave, that’s where we’ll go,” Batra said. “Because we currently don’t live in a world where every baby gets what they need.”