Midwest Regional Spinal Cord Injury Model System center - Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago

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What is an "SCIMS" Center?

Spinal Cord Injury Model System Center

RIC Midwest Regional Spinal Cord Injury Model System CenterAn "SCIMS" Center is a federally designated "Spinal Cord Injury Model Systems" Center. To be an SCIMS Center, a program must offer complete care for patients with spinal cord injuries, including • emergency medical service, • acute medical and trauma care, • psychosocial counseling, • rehabilitation care, • long-term follow-up and community integration, and • collaborative and site-specific research (see more below).

There are only 14 federally designated Spinal Cord Injury Model System locations in the United States, and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC) is THE ONLY Midwest* Regional Spinal Cord Injury Model System Center, one of the original five Model System Centers (partnering with Northwestern University and Northwestern Memorial Hospital) designated in 1972.

(*The "Midwest Region" covers the five states of Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Missouri.)

Why is this important for you?

As a Model System Center, we provide all the essential components necessary to help our patients return to the community and lead productive lives, maximizing functional abilities, fostering independence, and preventing secondary complications.

We advance spinal cord care through clinical research that identifies new standards of care for the industry. RIC leads multiple independent and collaborative research projects that explore walking therapy technologies and deliver the most effective treatment to Advance Human Ability™

RIC Spinal Cord Injury Recovery


Criteria for Spinal Cord Injury Model Systems from the U.S. Department of Education's National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR)

To be designated a Model System for spinal cord injury care, a program must provide:

  • Emergency medical service
  • Acute medical AND trauma care
  • Psychosocial counseling
  • Rehabilitation care
  • Long-term follow-up and community integration
  • Collaborative and site-specific research

RIC Spinal Cord Injury RehabilitationThe work of the Model System begins at the point of injury and ends with successful re-entry into full community life. The Model System collects, manages, and analyzes patient data during the acute care hospitalization and rehabilitation phases and continues to collect data on a regular, long-term basis after the patient goes home. This data is integrated into NIDRR's National Spinal Cord Injury Database, from which hundreds of peer-reviewed articles have been published over the past three decades, describing the experiences and outcomes of tens of thousands of individuals in the United States with spinal cord injuries.

Nationally recognized leaders transforming spinal cord injury treatment

At RIC (in partnership with Northwestern University and Northwestern Memorial Hospital) individuals with spinal cord injury receive comprehensive treatment and state-of-the-art care on par with few healthcare providers in the country.

Logo - National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation ResearchWe are recognized as a Model System for spinal cord injury care – a federal designation we first earned more than 30 years ago. Today, as one of only 14 such centers in the United States, we are the only one in a five-state region of the Midwest that includes Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin, Iowa and Missouri.

Our spinal cord injury Model System brings together experts from two nationally recognized medical institutions, giving patients access to the latest advancements in medicine, surgery and rehabilitation. We continue to learn from the experiences of thousands of spinal cord injury patients who have been through our doors. We apply this knowledge daily, looking for medical breakthroughs that can improve outcomes and quality of life.

We are committed to following the progress of our patients over a lifetime and work in partnership with the referring physician and case manager to re-evaluate the patient's physical condition and his or her changing needs to maximize functional abilities, foster independence, and help prevent secondary complications.

Involving physical medicine and rehabilitation experts early in the acute care phase of spinal cord injury treatment makes it possible to achieve optimal outcomes. As a Model System, we provide the essential components necessary to help our patients return to the community and lead productive lives.

Our Model System provides:

  • Commitment to ongoing communication with the referring physician and case manager
  • Coordination of transport services
  • Nearby helipad access as needed
  • Individualized plan of care for each patient, including surgery and rehabilitation
  • Acute spinal cord injury team available 24 hours a day, seven days a week
  • Dedicated neuroscience intensive care unit and specially trained staff
  • Early involvement of physical medicine and rehabilitation specialists while the patient is still in acute care
  • Self-contained spinal cord injury rehabilitation unit specially designed and outfitted for optimal patient care
  • Board certified physiatrists who specialize in caring for patients with spinal cord injury
  • Physical therapists and occupational therapists who care exclusively for patients with spinal cord injury
  • Therapy gym centrally located on the spinal cord injury rehabilitation unit
  • Services to assist with patient's re-entry into the community
  • Re-evaluation services available as early as eight months post-injury and throughout the patient's lifetime

Specially Trained Nurses

For spinal cord injury patients at RIC, acute nursing care focuses on helping the patient to maximize functional independence during daily activities. Our specially trained nurses manage a wide range of patient care issues impacting how quickly patients are able to progress.

Respiratory care

At RIC, specialized protocols address the most common respiratory issues faced by patients with spinal cord injury. This enables patients to be transitioned more quickly to the next level of care and to prepare for community reentry.

Ventilator-dependent patients

The Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago is one of the few inpatient rehabilitation facilities in the Midwest that provides care for ventilator-dependent spinal cord injury patients.

Rehabilitation specialists

Therapists and physiatrists at RIC are recognized as among the best in treating patients with spinal cord injuries and have pioneered therapies and adaptive equipment now used around the world.

Researching new and promising treatments

RIC is engaged in research to optimize recovery for individuals with spinal cord injuries. RIC is home to one of the largest rehabilitation research efforts in the world, with more than 240 projects underway, representing an investment of more than $12 million annually, funded through governmental and private support.

At RIC, spinal cord injury patients are among the first to participate in innovative treatments to bring greater independence and functional ability. Research findings are rapidly adopted into everyday practice for immediate patient benefit.

The BrainGate™ Neural Interface System has enabled some physically disabled people to perform basic tasks – such as checking email, typing messages, and adjusting the television or other environmental controls – by simply thinking about it.

The prototype KineAssist™ walking and balance exercise system is a motorized platform with a "smart brace" that supports the patient's trunk and pelvis while standing. Because it allows patients to lean or swing without falling, it can help patients learn to walk again.

Robot-assisted walking therapy with the Lokomat® uses a robotic gait orthosis to support the patient as he or she walks on a body-weight-supported treadmill. A computer controls the pace of walking and measures the body's movement. With this device, pattern and pace are consistent throughout the session and the exercise can be sustained over long periods of time. RIC has more Lokomat experience than any other rehabilitation center in the US and has assisted many spinal cord injury patients to achieve dramatic results, including regaining the ability to walk.

The common goal of the dedicated teams of health care professionals and physicians at Northwestern Memorial Hospital and the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago is to maximize the potential for neurological recovery and to minimize and treat any associated conditions or complications with the hope of expediting recovery and rehabilitation for individuals with spinal cord injury.


The Model System team

• Emergency medicine • Occupational therapy
• Surgery: General, trauma, neurological, orthopaedic, urological, plastic and reconstructive • Physical therapy
• Anesthesia and critical care medicine • Psychology
• Physical medicine and rehabilitation: Subspecialty in spinal cord injury medicine • Respiratory therapy
• Case managers, care managers, social workers • Speech and language pathology
• Spinal cord injury nursing: Acute care and rehabilitation • Vocational rehabilitation counseling

Specialized rehabilitation services

• Animal-assisted therapy • Tendon transfer program
• Aquatic therapy (hydrotherapy) • Urology clinic
• Robot-assisted walking therapy • Ventilator-dependent program
• Sensory Motor Performance Program • Wheelchair and seating center
• Sexual dysfunction, reproduction and fertility • Wound care
• Spasticity management

Community re-entry services

• Maximizes individual function and independence

• Assists in resuming life roles at home, work, school, community

Continuing care

• Day rehabilitation centers conveniently located around the Chicago area

• Outpatient centers in Chicago, central and southern Illinois and northern Indiana

• Home, workplace or school visitation by therapists and case managers

• Second Look program providing periodic, comprehensive, medical and rehabilitation evaluations and care management updates