Virginia Consortium for Spinal Cord Injury Care Receives Top Designation

Federal Government Announces 2021 Spinal Cord Injury Model Systems Designees

RICHMOND, Va. (September 21, 2021) — The Virginia Consortium for Spinal Cord Injury Care, a partnership between Virginia Commonwealth University’s (VCU) Center for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering (CERSE), the Central Virginia VA Health Care System (CVHCS), and Sheltering Arms Institute has earned federal designation as one of only 14 Spinal Cord Injury (SCI) Model Systems Centers in the U.S.

This prestigious designation recognizes the Consortium’s outstanding integrated system of healthcare from hospital treatment to community-based services as well as its innovative interdisciplinary research program to improve the lives of Virginians who have sustained a SCI.

The award includes a $2.2 million grant over five years funded by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. This makes VCU one of only four centers in the nation to have a dual designation as a SCI and traumatic brain injury (TBI) model systems center.

The co-principal investigators on the grant are Ashraf S. Gorgey, MPT, PhD, FACSM, FACRM, VCU CERSE Professor and Director of SCI Research at the CVHCS, and Zina Trost, PhD, Associate Professor and CERSE Integrative Rehabilitation Research Scientist. The Medical Director of the grant is Timothy Lavis, MD, Chief of Spinal Cord Injuries and Disorders and Senior SCI Specialist for Sheltering Arms Institute.

“We are humbled to receive this award,” said Dr. Gorgey. “It represents many years of hard work by our collaborative research team and the outstanding clinical care delivered by the Central Virginia VA Health Care System and Sheltering Arms Institute. The SCI Model Systems grant supports our continued dedication to research and real-world applicability to enhance the lives of people with spinal cord injuries.”

The centerpiece of the Consortium’s research is an innovative and bold study to improve arm and hand function in individuals with tetraplegia. The research study proposes to use noninvasive electrical stimulation to improve both arm and hand muscle mass and nerve function, a novel approach that has not previously been tried. The second proposed study urgently tackles the difficult topic of identifying specific sources of health inequities following SCI. This study aims to identify practical and implementable solutions that can improve rehabilitation access and health outcomes for people from rural areas as well as racial and ethnic minority backgrounds.

“As a community partner and former Sheltering Arms patient, I appreciate being actively involved in building this research program,” said Richard Bagby, Executive Director, United Spinal Association of Virginia, and Chair of the Virginia SCI Model Systems Advisory Board. “This research is innovative and can potentially make a real difference in people’s lives.”


About VCU Center for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering (CERSE) and PM&R Department

Established in 1949 as one of the nation’s four inaugural PM&R departments, VCU’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation has 50+ clinical, teaching and research faculty across central Virginia at seven VCU Health facilities, Sheltering Arms Institute, and the Central Virginia VA Health Care System. The department provides clinical care that restores individuals with disability to the highest functional level possible, trains 18 residents and 10 fellows annually to become leaders in the field, and conducts innovative, cutting-edge research in brain injury, spinal cord injury, amputation care, pain management and rehabilitation care delivery. The VCU Center for Rehabilitation Science and Engineering (CERSE), a designated VCU-wide Research Center that is housed in the Department of PM&R within the VCU School of Medicine, offers research mentorship, infrastructure, and leadership across all areas of disability. CERSE has 50+ researchers with 85+ active grants and more than $30 million/year in federal funding advancing knowledge acquisition and translation to enhance care and outcomes across all areas of disability. For more information, please visit VCU PM&R and VCU CERSE

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls nearly 30,000 students in 238 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Twenty-three of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Tappahannock Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, and MCV Physicians. The clinical enterprise includes a collaboration with Sheltering Arms Institute for physical rehabilitation services. For more, please visit and

About Central Virginia VA Health Care System

Since 1944, our primary mission at Central Virginia VA Health Care System (CVHCS) has been to care for Veterans and their caregivers. As Virginia’s largest Veterans hospital network, CVHCS delivers high-quality health care using state-of-the-art-technology to our Nation’s Heroes, every day. We are honored to offer health care services at our main hospital in south Richmond, or at one of our five community clinics in Charlottesville, Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania County, Emporia and Henrico. For more information, or to register for VA health care services, please visit

About Sheltering Arms Institute

Sheltering Arms and VCU Health System have formed a joint venture, Sheltering Arms Institute, a state-of-the-science physical rehabilitation hospital, that brings together the brand and clinical reputation of Sheltering Arms and the nationally ranked programs and research of VCU Health. The Institute blends advanced technology, research, and evidence-based clinical treatment to create an innovative, transdisciplinary model of rehabilitative care that facilitates superior outcomes for patients. All outpatient services for both parent organizations operate separately now and into the foreseeable future. For more information, please visit