The functional outcomes of 185 patients with spinal cord injuries undergoing rehabilitation who were initially treated in a specialized short-term care unit (center patients) were compared with those of 153 patients initially treated in general hospitals (noncenter patients). After stabilization, all patients were admitted to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (Ill) and received the same rehabilitation program. The groups were comparable in terms of demographic, injury, and medical characteristics at the time of rehabilitation center admission, but the duration from injury to rehabilitation was more than twice as long for noncenter patients. While center patients were discharged from the rehabilitation center at equivalent functional skill levels, their daily rate of functional gains during the rehabilitation center stay was significantly greater than that of noncenter patients although the length of stay at the rehabilitation center was comparable for the two groups. These results support the practice of specialized short-term spinal cord injury care as a means of enhancing rehabilitation outcome.