Sundaram Srinivasan was an important figure in a community that few New Yorkers have heard of, let alone visited. Srini, as he was known, was an Indian immigrant who arrived in the US in 1985. After an accident he became a long-term patient at Goldwater Hospital, a city-owned nursing home and rehabilitation center on Roosevelt Island.
Listen to Ramaa Reddy Raghavan’s audio portrait of Srini:
Until recently the hospital was home to as many as 1000 patients. Many, like Srini, were immigrants. To them, Srini was a hero because despite a debilitating condition, he advocated tirelessly for them.
Srini died on December 6, 2012, at the age of 66, less than a year before was scheduled to leave Goldwater Hospital before it shut down. He had been a patient at the hospital for nearly a third of his life.
At Srini’s funeral he was remembered for his politeness, his energy, but mainly for his zeal to provide a voice for his fellow patients. Srini was a post polio syndrome patient. After coming to this country, an accident caused his lungs to collapse, making him dependent on a ventilator. During his stay at Goldwater, Srini advocated for the needs of patients who are bedridden and paraplegic. He made sure their birthdays were celebrated and as the president of the hospital auxiliary he helped start programs such as cooking classes, a computer lab, a library and even a radio station.
Because of Goldwater’s valuable real estate location, the hospital will close this year to make way for the new Cornell Tech campus. Each month patients are being moved out and some wards now lie empty. Friends close to Srini said he was in a state of depression ever since the closing was announced.
“They felt that there are a lot of patients who could live in the community so they are finding apartments and community settings so they dont need such a huge hospital. But it’s a lot of sentiments, people are here for a long time but the decision was made at the Mayor’s office level.”
These sentiments include anxiety about where patients will be relocated. They run high among undocumented immigrants from Haiti, Ecuador and the Caribbean who have no family in the U.S.
Hospital officials say all patients will be relocated regardless of their immigration status. Half of the acute care patients will be transferred to a nursing facility in Harlem. Officials say they are working with housing providers to find homes for the rest.
This year, the radio station and service activities will move to the Henry J. Carter Speciality Hospital, in Harlem. Srini had intended to accompany them.
Hospital administrators were hoping that Srini would continue to be a leader; to motivate patients, bring in grants and create programs that foster a sense of community for those who have no families. Now with Srini gone, both hospital officials and patients are wondering if another leader will emerge to take his place.
Feet in 2 Worlds is supported by the David and Katherine Moore Family Foundation and the Ralph E. Ogden Foundation. Fi2W podcasts are produced with the support of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism and CUNY TV.