Gov. Walz gets firsthand glimpse into mental, physical demands of home care workers

PCAs, embedded into families & caring for loved ones, make $13.25/hour

Sloane Martin
November 22, 2019 - 4:58 pm
Walz, Jay Spika and Deb Howze

Gov. Tim Walz steps into the shoes of a home health worker to learn the mental and physical demands of home health workers.

Walz wears jeans, a Wounded Warrior Project long-sleeved t-shirt and medical gloves as 41-year-old Jay Spika lowers himself from his walker to the bed in the living room of his St. Paul home. The governor helped home care worker, 61-year-old Deb Howze, shower Spika, who was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis 11 years ago and has required in-home care for nearly half of that time. 

Spika, who's an army veteran with four children, ages 15, 12, 7 and 5, has a degenerative disease. Howze helps him stay in his home with his family for as long as possible.

Walz knelt down to put lotion on Spika's legs and feet. He was there to as observe and ask questions of Howze, who has been a caregiver for decades.

Walz, Jay Spika and Deb Howze

"People don't understand," Howze said. "This job is exhausting. Especially the (staff) turnover that we have. We shouldn't have to have turnover. You should be able to get a PCA job and be able to live on it without working two extra jobs."

Professional caregivers like Howze are embedded in families, helping in anyway they can to make sure the ill or disabled person has the highest quality of life they can. They unionized in 2014 to have sick time and holiday pay, but Howze says workers deserve more security.

The conversation amongst the three as they prepared Spika to leave the house for a meeting evolved into healthcare and caregiving overall. Spika explained that it's difficult for spouses to leave their jobs for full-time caregiving, because they wouldn't be paid.

"If she wanted to take care of me," he said, "we would have to get a divorce."

Overall, it was a learning experience for Walz, who says he wants bring this conversation to the capitol where he thinks supporting home care workers will have broad support.

"They're servants and they're in it for compassion, but we have to make sure that they are able to get a wage that keeps them in this," Walz said. "I worry for every time this happens. Turning over and having Jay go through this all again. It was hard enough today to explain to me, 'This is what you need to do.'"

Jay Spika, Deb Howze
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