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Home Care in Jeopardy: Abu Zafar Mahmood’s Mission to Preserve Services for the Elderly, Sick & Disabled

Bangladeshi-American Abu Zafar Mahmood, a dedicated freedom fighter, is the visionary founder and chairman of Bangla CDPAP and Alegra Home Care in New York State. For over fifteen years, his organizations have compassionately stood by the side of the sick and elderly, offering them support and care as if they were family. Mahmood's journey in providing these essential humanitarian services has been marked by resilience and unwavering commitment, despite facing numerous challenges. In his extensive interview with The New York Editorial, Mahmood discusses not only his work and organization but also delves into his current initiative: a robust campaign aimed at ensuring the continued provision of CDPAP services amidst changing regulations and challenges, reinforcing his dedication to the well-being of New York's most vulnerable residents.


Q: What is CDPAP? What does it basically do?


Abu Zafar Mahmood: CDPAP is a Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program. The CDPAP program is considered by many, including me, a symbol of American civilization, not only in New York State, but across America.


Let me explain it. What do consumers consume? He or she consumes services. All human beings need service or care. Especially the elderly or seriously ill, they need it more. There are sick people all over the world, people all over the world need care or service. This care is given or received from their family or privately. The beauty of American civilization is that a sick person, an elderly person is given care by the state and the government here.


Throughout our lives when we work, earn, we pay taxes. By working we contribute to the country in many ways. A person, who contributes to a state, when he/she needs help or gets sick, and then he/she needs care. Human beings are a social creature and family is a part of it. A family provides care to its sick members. As we have seen, our parents took care of us. We have seen that within the family, be it younger or elderly, the one who needs care, is given care. In our community we see that care being provided by family, relatives as well as neighbors. The only exchange for this is love. When this care takes place only within the family and immediate vicinity, it is called home care.


I am proud to have been the first Bengali speaking person in New York to launch this service. In addition, we also trained the first set of staff to become home health aides in Jackson Heights. In the first batch we trained 25 people for three weeks. Thus began our journey.


Q: How did the idea of working with CDPAP come about?


Abu Zafar Mahmood: My journey with CDPAP began from a deep appreciation of cultural diversity and heritage. Recognizing that many of our trainees were Bengali speakers, we sought to understand their cultural backgrounds and values, aiming to blend these rich traditions with American society. As a proud American citizen, I believe in the importance of integrating the best aspects of our ancestral cultures into the American fabric. This ethos of cultural integration is not just a personal belief; it's a commitment to enriching American society with the beauty and goodness of diverse heritages.


My patriotism for both my birth country and the United States drives my sense of responsibility and leadership in America. I firmly believe that those of us from Bangladesh, with our deep sense of patriotism, contribute significantly to American society. It's this belief in responsible and civilized citizenship that inspired me to be a leader here.


My involvement in home care, specifically with CDPAP, stemmed from a belief that family members are best suited to care for their own. This realization came after years of observing the struggles and successes of families in need of care. Before the existence of CDPAP, I witnessed the challenges families faced, their tears of sorrow turning into tears of joy as they achieved security and success. While I am often thanked for my role in this transformation, I attribute this success to the policies of the American government and my faith.


For over a decade, I have dedicated myself solely to this work, foregoing other professional opportunities. My commitment has also inspired others from the Bangladeshi community to seek my advice and follow a similar path, emphasizing the importance of community support and cultural understanding in our shared journey with CDPAP.


You mentioned that your work in CDPAP is not just a business but also involves elements of love and humanity. Can you expand on how these values are integrated into your services?


Abu Zafar Mahmood: I am an American. I am a resident of New York. So, my responsibility is to all New Yorkers here and to all Americans. When we did CDPAP, we saw that family members, neighbors, community members, acquaintances, friends – everyone could do it. There is a misconception that only family members can do it. No, many people don't know that.


When we give service to someone, he or she needs to be trained well so that he or she can provide the service. The person who provides the service must also be taught, although there is no separate schooling system. But I teach it in my institution. I now have nine branches throughout New York State. We give this education to everyone, since if I educate them about home care and CDPAP, then they learn and can teach others too.


To do this requires progressive thinking. Home care is not just a business. Many see it strictly as being so and yes, the license we have taken is a business license. However, there is another aspect of the concept. It is not written in the license. That is love. That is humanity. That is service. And that’s the most unique aspect of this industry.


Q: Tell us something about your birthplace in Bangladesh, the memories of the liberation war?


Abu Zafar Mahmood: I was born in Sandwip, an island by the Bay of Bengal. I used to see people being swept away by floods and tidal waves. When I was in high school, Sandwip would flood several times a year. Along with the elders, I also participated in rescuing the people who were swept away. In this way, humanity has grown in me at an early age. When I was in college, the liberation war started. Having never seen a weapon, going in front of a powerful army and fighting against them, defeating them, was an impossible thing to imagine. But the spirit to stand by my neighbors, stand by the oppressed worked. I was Mountain Battalion Commander in 1971. I was posted in Chittagong Hill Tracts. This consciousness still works in me, as for the people of my country, so for the people of the whole world.


The United Nations voluntary organizations here gave me the Global Ambassador for Peace Award. They want me to do humanitarian work in different countries of the world. They are calling me again and again, even today.


Q: How does CDPAP benefit or compensate the caregivers?


Abu Zafar Mahmood: Under the CDPAP program, family members are able to work and provide care for the family. The member cannot work elsewhere or outside while providing this service. So, what about his income, his own survival? For this, the system that exists in America, family members, family means children, parents, grandparents, any other family members, will be paid in return for the service they provide. Those who are providing services are called PA or Personal Assistant. The person taking the service is the consumer. They belong to the same family.


Q: Has there been any obstacle while doing this work of humanity?


Abu Zafar Mahmood: Since it is business, just like there are big aquatic animals in the sea, there are big corporations in the business world. These corporate machines are powerful. We who are the general public, do not have such a platform. When it's time to vote, we actually vote. I don't really know the person who I vote for. Because he or she doesn't come here. There may be many reasons for that. Sometimes they don't come because of linguistic distance. The public service in this country which, as we have seen, provides services day and night whenever needed, is not the same here in our local communities. As a result, we vote for strangers. When they go and legislate, they mostly legislate for the big corporate interests, not for us. But we the common people want those legislators to fulfill their duty to us, lead us, represent us.


Recently rules are being passed that will tremendously limit CDPAP program providing organizations in New York State. There are certain rules and limitations that have been brought forward which will allow or disallow such organizations to operate. And the rules are unfair in many of our eyes and on top of that, they are not even being withheld properly.


The state has given notice to 217 agencies to stop functioning. I have nine branches of my organization. I have branches in several neighborhood in New York City. There are branches outside of this city also. Imagine how many staff we have in each office! And we serve hundreds of people with these offices. And I am just one agency. There are 217 other such agencies. Which means thousands of offices, thousands of staff, hundreds of thousands to millions of elderly, sick and disabled getting the services. If the agencies are closed all of these people who are in dire need of such services will be out of it which will make them suffer terribly. Thousands of jobs will be lost of our staff members. The owners and partners of the agencies will also suffer a blow to their income source. When you calculate the impact that it will make, you will understand better why this is such an important situation. Our representatives and law makers need to take this into consideration.


We want to remind those who are our representatives, who are brought to power by our votes, who go to city, state and federal government by our votes, that you are not only elected by corporate money, but also by our votes. Just as their money is useful to you, so are our votes. If you withhold the services, I should get at the moment I need them, when I am old or when I am ill, then you are directly causing me harm. So why should we vote for you anymore?


However, we don't want it. We want to see our representatives as good and civilized people. We do recognize that the services being brought forward like CDPAP makes New York and America a wonderful place to live in. So we appreciate and are proud of our state and nation and of the political representatives who made it happen.


All we ask is our representatives to think about the impact this action will take, and stop the acts that they are doing to close CDPAP. If it is closed, we will suffer. It will have a negative impact on thousands if not hundreds of thousands of families in New York State. And given that New York is a diverse state, it will impact people from all communities and walks of life. This is why I, as a person involved in this service, am taking the steps to have this conversation brought forward and this situation addressed.


Q: How are you preparing to face this situation?


Abu Zafar Mahmood: I have hired lawyers, I have hired lobbyists. Four days ago I spoke with the deputy leader of the New York Senate. There are many other appointments I have scheduled with leaders and politicians from all around the city and state. With whomever I am talking to, so far, they agree that this is an important topic.


Voters and the general public are becoming more aware over time. We can now see better whether the representatives who lead us are compassionate and understanding of our needs or not. And my approach is not only to lead political conversations but general awareness among the people as well.


What I found really astonishing is that according the rules set forward, those agencies who has 200 members in 2020 can become FI leads and can continue providing services. We had 260 members and have submitted the documents. But somehow, they are still not adhering to the rules they set forward themselves. So I am trying to get to the core of the problem.


Sure, it is true that our agency as a business makes profit. But even more importantly we provide a source of income to our staff in all our branches. And those branches are serving hundreds of families who are both getting an income and the service. So stopping this service will cause people to lose their source of income and vital services. I tell our elected officials only thing to consider which is to remember that we will all grow old one day and we will need such services. Imagine when you are old or sick and need it, you are denied such service. How would you feel? So, please consider this.


Big corporations in our industry already have a lot of income and members. They really do not need more. And more importantly, these corporations are not always aware of the specific needs and interests of local communities which is why small local agencies are just as important as the big corporations. The new rules benefit only those large corporations who do not always have the best interest of local, marginalized communities in mind. As such, the rules are oppressive and limiting in many manners which needs to be understood.


We want to remind the elected representatives that we elect representatives, be it in the Senate, be it in the Assembly, be it in the City Council – everywhere. Elections are coming. We are observing, taking note of those who are on the side of people, on the side of humanity. We hope that our elected officials are aware of this.


Q: How are people responding to this movement?


Abu Zafar Mahmood: 46 other agencies have joined in this movement. Several assemblymen, senators have joined. Wherever I am talking, I am getting responses. Everyone is on board so I'm not alone. I have only taken the first initiative.


Some have not joined because they already think it is not worth it anymore and are giving up. They are frustrated but do not believe the system will work for them. And even if they are not involved, they are our people. That's why if they don't come, if they don't wake up, I can't sit idle. I have to take the lead; I have to take the responsibility.


Q: What is the progress after hiring the lobby?


Abu Zafar Mahmood: I spoke with the lobbyist the day before yesterday. He has already scheduled four or five meetings for me with members of the New York State Senate and Assembly. I also personally reached out and schedule meetings on my own. I strongly believe we will win. Very soon I will have a major meeting with multiple elected representatives and other politicians.


Q: Are the service repicipents also participating in this movement of yours?


Abu Zafar Mahmood: Yes, service recipients are also joining our movement. We have been talking to them, understanding their needs, keeping them involved in the process and we have plans to better integrate them in the process of the conversations we are having.


Q: With the challenges you're facing in continuing CDPAP services, what message would you like to convey to the wider community and to those who may be affected by the potential changes in the program?


Abu Zafar Mahmood: As we navigate these challenges, my message to the community is one of unity and perseverance. It's essential that we stand together in the face of adversity, particularly when it comes to preserving vital services like CDPAP that touch the lives of so many. These services are not just about healthcare; they are about upholding the dignity and quality of life for our elderly and disabled community members. I urge everyone to stay informed, get involved, and lend their voice to this cause. Remember, today we are advocating for the rights and needs of others, but tomorrow, we may find ourselves in need of the same support. Let's work collectively to ensure that our community remains a place where care and compassion are valued and accessible to all.

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