Whidbey may not be aging quite as quickly as once thought

Whidbey Island’s demographic is aging, right? Maybe not as quickly as once thought.

WhidbeyHealth in Coupeville and Greenbank Birth Center are reporting a “modest” but steady uptick in births.

Some preschool programs are also reporting that enrollment is picking up — many have a six-month waiting list for new students.

“I’d say the last three years have been busier for us than usual, which surprised me because I always read Island County is one of the oldest counties in the country,” said Cynthia Jaffe, midwife at Greenbank Birth Center.

“An average year for us is about 70 babies a year, and two years ago we had something like 115 women come for care, not all of them delivered, but most.”

“Last year was also quite busy.”

Jaffe oversaw 87 births in 2016 and 110 the year before. She’s been a midwife on Whidbey for more than 25 years, and said her business gives a pretty good idea of Whidbey’s general birth rate.

She estimates her birth center delivers a third of the island’s newborns.

Jaffe is not alone in reporting a slight increase in births.

Trish Nilsen, nurse manager at the WhidbeyHealth Family Birth Center, says her crew is seeing a trend that goes against the idea that Whidbey is rapidly graying. However, she has some ideas for why that may be, and that it has much to do with Naval Air Station Whidbey Island.

“We’re definitely seeing a modest increase over the last few years,” Nilsen said. “Perhaps we’re seeing more because of the Navy and the bump of deployments to the base just north of us. They’re able to opt out to go to a non-naval hospital to have a baby, so our bump is at least partly down to that.”

This year is on course to be a record-breaking year with 220 births, she said. That rivals 2014 when the hospital saw 204 births.

The past two years — 2016 and 2015 — saw 181 and 186 births, respectively. There were 179 births in 2013 and 154 in 2012.

Numbers fluctuate, not only due to an influx of military personnel, but because of different resources at WhidbeyHealth, for example when a midwife arrives or departs, Nilsen said.

WhidbeyHealth’s new birthplace center might have garnered interest in pregnancy care at the hospital, she added, but the bottom line is that the hospital is seeing more newborns.

Regardless of the reasons, the island is experiencing “a bit of un-graying of our community,” she said.

South Whidbey Children’s Center Executive Director Kris Barker sees a similar trend.

“We’ve had a huge change in demand over the past few years,” Barker said. “We’ve been full with our waiting list for well over a year now. I’ve been telling people about our situation for a long time, but I don’t know if anybody has been listening.”

Whidbey News Group file — Teagan Rose Vogt was the first patient, and newborn, in the new addition of WhidbeyHealth Medical Center that opened in July. She is the daughter of Alicia and Tim Vogt.

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