CONTEXT/OBJECTIVE Determine the impact of early admission and complete perioperative management in a specialized spinal cord injury (SCI) trauma center (SCI-center) on the occurrence of medical complications following tetraplegia. DESIGN A retrospective comparative cohort study of prospectively collected data involving 116 individuals was conducted. Group 1 (N=87) was early managed in a SCI-center promptly after the trauma, whereas Group 2 (N=29) was surgically and preoperatively managed in a non-specialized (NS) center before being transferred to the SCI-center. Bivariate comparisons and multivariate logistic regression analyses were used to assess the relationship between the type of acute care facility and the occurrence of medical complications. Length of stay (LOS) in acute care was also compared. SETTING Single Level-1 trauma center. PARTICIPANTS Individuals with acute traumatic motor-complete cervical SCI. INTERVENTIONS Not applicable Outcome measures: The occurrence of complications during the SCI-center stay. RESULTS There was a similar rate of complications between the two groups. However, the LOS was greater in Group 2 (p=0.04). High cervical injuries (C1-C4) showed an important tendency to increase the likelihood of developing a complication, while high cervical injuries and increased trauma severity increased the odds of developing respiratory complications. CONCLUSION Although complication rates were similar in non-specialized and specialized centers, peri-operative management in a non-specialized center required a longer length of stay. Prompt transfer to a SCI-center may optimize the care trajectory by favoring earlier transfer to rehabilitation.