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'We need help': A brother desperate to find his sister essential care

Posted at 8:01 PM, May 24, 2024

ASHWAUBENON (NBC 26) — Hannah Widmeier suffered a traumatic brain injury in a car accident in December 2017. She is now '100% dependent,' according to her brother Mitchell — but has yet to receive nursing care in the Green Bay area.

  • Mitch and Hannah moved to Ashwaubenon a year and a half ago under the impression they would be able to get skilled in-home nursing care quickly
  • Their provider, Lakeland Care, admits it's "atypical" to wait that long for care
  • Mitch juggles a full-time job and caring for Hannah around the clock — and says he's "exhausted"
  • After having a four-nurse care team when they lived in Iowa, Mitch says it's "frustrating" to struggle to find a single one in Wisconsin
  • The Aging & Disability Resource Center of Brown County is one place people can seek care
  • The ADRC says nursing shortages continue to plague Wisconsin
  • Video shows Hannah before and after the accident, as well as Mitch and Hannah's daily routine

(The following is a transcription of the full broadcast story)

"You've got something to say?" Mitch asks Hannah. "What's going on?"

Mitch and Hannah have their routine down.

"I get up at 3 a.m., seven days a week to give her a water flush," Mitch said. "5:30 a.m., seven days a week, to change her brief."

There's medication, and tube feeding, three times a day.

This is life or the Widmeier siblings in Ashwaubenon.

But it wasn't always this way.

In December 2017, Hannah, a junior in college, nearly died in a car crash — and was left with a traumatic brain injury.

"Hannah's never going to be the same," Mitch said. "She's never going to get back to a point where she was the sister you had before the accident."

Hannah only communicates through smiles and laughs. She can no longer walk, talk, or even cough.

Their older sister now battling stomach cancer, and Mitch does all this alone, without nurses.

"If you think about it, it's like taking care of a baby that probably isn't going to grow up," he said.

When they moved to Green Bay, he was confident they'd find help.

"We were told, word for word, getting in-home nursing would not be an issue for Hannah," he said.

But after a year and a half — nothing.

So we spoke with their provider, Lakeland Care.

"Do you think that is peculiar to have to wait that long?" we asked.

"That is atypical to wait that long," Lakeland Chief Program Officer Jen Harrison said. "It would be unusual for us to not provide some level of supportive home care, because he needs a break."

The Aging and Disability Resource Center of Brown County says there is a shortage of skilled in-home care nationwide.

Jen Harrison with Lakeland acknowledges that — but says it shouldn't take more than a few days to get essential care.

"The state of Wisconsin, the Department of Health Services, really count on us as their contractor to have adequacy," Harrison said. "And even though we all know there are shortages right now, it shouldn't matter what the geographic span is.

Mitch says trying another provider after waiting this long feels like a gamble.

So it's unclear what's next between Hannah and Lakeland. Lakeland would not comment further on their situation.

Mitch says between working a remote, full-time job and taking care of Hannah around the clock — he's exhausted.

"My gas tank's running on 'E', mentally, physically, taking care of her by myself," he said. "When you're told that you're going to get the help and don't get it — I'm running low on gas."

Yet, they still go for walks — and when football season comes around, they head to Lambeau.

"There are days when I'm working where have thought, like, 'I wonder where I would be in my career if this hadn't happened,'" Mitch said. "I tell myself, it's not about me. And I just need to take care of Hannah."

"I'm right here though," he tells Hannah. "I'm right here, Hannah."

If you're struggling to find care, like Mitch and Hannah, the ADRC here in Wisconsin is one place to connect with care agencies.