Model System of Care

Since 1982, Shepherd Center has been designated as a national leader in spinal cord injury care and research under the Spinal Cord Injury Model Systems program at the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR).

The Southeastern Regional SCI Model System at Shepherd Center is the largest of the country's 14 Model Systems of Care for spinal cord injury. Shepherd has the largest number of new admissions and outpatient visits of all the Model Systems sites.

Since its beginnings, the Model Systems program has been focused on improving the immediate and long-term care of individuals with spinal cord injury. That is why one of the most important contributions of the program has been the growth of the National SCI Statistical Center (NSCISC), which is the largest SCI clinical outcomes database in the world with data from more than 28,000 individuals with SCI. The information collected by the Model Systems Centers, organized and stored by the NSCISC, have been invaluable in understanding and improving the care outcomes for individuals with SCI since the founding of the first SCI Model System in 1970.

Through the years as a NIDILRR-funded SCI Model System, Shepherd Center has developed and tested many approaches that are now part of programs offered to patients at Shepherd Center and other institutions, including:

  • Vocational services
  • Peer support groups
  • Community outreach
  • Advocacy program
  • Spinal cord injury prevention program
  • Adventure Skills Workshop

Today, these programs are funded through contributions made by our donors or operationally.

In 1990, NIDILRR priorities shifted away from demonstration projects and toward clinical research. This was a natural outgrowth of the number of years that the SCI Model Systems program had been in existence. This new focus accelerated the pace of research at Shepherd Center, and enabled the development of research projects conducted in collaboration with other centers.

Over the years many projects have been undertaken and completed, with an emphasis on studies that focus on improving patient outcomes. SCI Model Systems studies currently in-progress at Shepherd Center and in collaboration with other Model Systems Hospitals include:

  • Investigating effects of an exercise circuit combined with brain stimulation to maximize walking function
  • Exploration of the perceived impact of spasticity on life and functioning after SCI
  • Examination of how people with SCI utilize hospital Emergency Departments
  • Analysis of how robotic exoskeletons are used in clinical practice, and the impact on service economics
  • Relationship between arm and hand motor capabilities and performance of functional tasks

For more information about the Southeastern Regional SCI Model System at Shepherd Center, call 404-603-4274 or email Edelle Field-Fote, PT, PhD, FAPTA, FASIA at

Logo for the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research (NIDILRR)