Patients admitted to the University of Alabama Hospital between 1973 and 1985 were studied to determine the benefits, if any, of early admission to an organised, multidisciplinary spinal cord injury (SCI) care system. Patients admitted within 1 day of injury who received all subsequent care within the system were compared with patients who received their acute care services elsewhere and who were admitted to the system solely for rehabilitation. Both patient groups were comparable with respect to age, neurologic level and extent of spinal cord lesion, pre-existing major medical conditions, associated injuries, ventilator dependency and acute surgical procedure experience. Findings included statistically significant reductions in acute care and total lengths of stay coupled with a highly significant reduction in the incidence of pressure ulcers for patients admitted within 1 day of injury. Moreover, for patients admitted within 1 day of injury, mortality rates were lower than reported previously for patients not admitted to an organised SCI care system.