HARLEM — Whenever friends came to visit Jamel Slade at Coler-Goldwater Memorial Hospital on Roosevelt Island, he told them to look out the window at the New York City skyline.
"I had a million-dollar view," said Slade, 55, who was left a quadriplegic after a 1994 shooting in Brownsville.
Once he found out that the hospital and nursing facility that had been his home for 18 years was being closed to make way for Cornell's University's tech campus and that he could move to a new facility on the former site of North General Hospital in East Harlem, all Slade asked for was a room with a view.
"I miss the beauty of the island, but I can sit here and actually get a peace of mind," Slade said while sitting in the afternoon sun of his south-facing sixth-floor room overlooking the Metro-North tracks at the new $285 million Henry J. Carter Specialty Hospital and Nursing Facility on Park Avenue and East 122nd Street.
"I get to judge who among my neighbors has the best Christmas lights," he said while looking across the rooftops.
Slade arrived at the facility on Nov. 25, one of 228 patients. Roughly 114 are critically ill and rely on ventilators. Others, like Slade, require specialized nursing care.
Their arrival marked the end of patient services at Goldwater, located on the southern end of the island, which first opened in 1939. Some of the approximately 800 residents were moved to community-based long-term care housing. The Coler Center on Roosevelt Island will still offer some rehab services. A new building on Metropolitan Hospital's East Harlem campus will house even more of Goldwater's former patients.
For what the 365-patient, 400,000-square-foot East Harlem facility lacks in open space, it makes up for in modernity.
The culinary arts space has granite countertops and spacious workspaces. In the dance studio, the barre is adjustable so it can be used both by people who can walk and others in wheelchairs.
"The environment is stimulating and it makes them want to be here," said activities therapist Gina Clay.
The dining rooms have an "enhanced dining" element where food is served a la carte on china to avoid the institutionalized feel of some long-term care facilities.
And, most importantly, instead of having four patients in a room as they did at Goldwater, the new two-person suites are semi-private, giving each patient his or her own space.
"Goldwater was very institutional-looking and the infrastructure was quite antiquated," said Margaret Rivers, associate executive director of the facility. "Now patients have their privacy. Their dignity is honored. In terms of atmosphere and ambience, this place is spectacular."
Henry J. Carter, the founder of Wheelchair Charities, a group that has made more than $25 million in donations to the Health and Hospitals Corporation, is the first living person whom the agency has named a building after.
"Roosevelt Island was beautiful and relaxing, but here the residents have more privacy and dignity," said Carter, who has become a regular fixture at the East Harlem facility bearing his name just as he was on Roosevelt Island. "This was a gift from God."
That didn't stop the concern of residents and leaders that the Bloomberg administration was pushing the fast-tracked plan through before the new facility's impact on the neighborhood could be fully analyzed and understood.
The city announced in 2010 that the antiquated 9.9 acre Goldwater campus was to be deactivated but no plans for the site were discussed until the tech campus project was revealed.
"Prior to them moving here the concern in the planning phase was that the larger goals by the mayor trumped concerns about local needs and the discussion we like to have about what's in our community," said George Sarkissian, district manager for Community Board 11.
But since the relocation, there have been no troubles.
"We've started to speak to them and are getting to know them," Sarkissian said.
Rivers said the site plans to be a part of the community and would like local groups to have access to their modern auditorium for events and for local religious groups to use the spaces reserved for services.
Even though he misses his Roosevelt Island views, Slade said the move has been beneficial for him so far. He teaches a class at a central Harlem youth program and used to have to travel from Roosevelt Island to get there. Now it's a "hop, skip and a jump" away.
When the weather warms, he's looking forward to spending time in nearby Marcus Garvey Park. Slade has already been to the division of motor vehicles to change the address on his identification card, a sign that the center is home.
"Unless I meet a beautiful woman and move out," Slade said with a smile. "As long as I'm here, I want to be a part of this community."