Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Advocacy Leads to New VA Spinal Cord Injury Center in Syracuse

Syracuse SCI Center Ribbon Cutting June 2013Veterans Administration Secretary Eric Shinseki on Friday, June 14, 2013, participated in a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Syracuse VA Medical Center to unveil the 24th regional hub in the country for spinal cord injury (SCI) patients in the VA health system.

The new $90 million hub houses 30 inpatient beds, an outpatient surgery center and a dialysis and infusion center. The facility also features several areas for rest and recreation for SCI patients, including a basketball hoop, putting green, a physical therapy gym, a therapy pool and an open terrace courtyard for recreation therapy.

Previously, SCI patients in the upstate New York region were sent to the Bronx or Cleveland for most specialized care, said Lana McKenzie, associate executive director of medical services and health policy for Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Noting the lack of qualified care for the upstate New York region, Paralyzed Veterans in 2004 began lobbying the VA and Congress to support building a new hub to serve SCI veterans in that area. A team of architects, medical staff and others at Paralyzed Veterans put together a proposal that justified the need for an SCI center in that region, McKenzie said.

That advocacy led to a $90 million appropriation from Congress to build the center, which in 2005 kicked off the process for designing and building the center. With the help of Paralyzed Veterans’ architects, VA began building the center in 2009, McKenzie said. 

Unlike other SCI hubs within the VA system, which are typically housed on the ground level, the Syracuse SCI hub is located on the eighth floor of the medical center – a necessity given the tight city space the VA had to work with. But Paralyzed Veterans’ architects were able to incorporate a terrace area as well as skylights that allow for lots of natural light for patients, McKenzie said.

“Out of all of the projects, this has been probably the most challenging that the architects has been involved in,” she said. “It speaks volumes for us to be at the table and have a great outcome like this.”

Architects also were able to address some of the challenges present at other SCI hubs within the VA system, McKenzie said. While other centers often have rooms shared by up to four patients, the Syracuse center includes more private rooms to allow for infection control, for example.

“If you have four patients sharing a room and one has an infection, you have to close the other three beds,” she said. “One of the benefits of the private rooms is we can prevent having to close beds to contain the infection.”

The Medical Services Team at Paralyzed Veterans also played a major role in the design and overall outcome of the center, from helping architects design rooms that were functional for patients to educating clinicians at the center on how to appropriately care for SCI patients.

“My role is to educate the clinicians in Syracuse because they’ve never had an SCI center within their VAMC,” McKenzie said. “It’s a long, intense working process, but this is what goes to benefit thousands of veterans who have to travel away from their homes.”

Learn more about Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Medical Services Department 

Brittany Ballenstedt is a freelance journalist whose work has appeared in several publications, including Government Executive, National Journal, Technology Daily and 


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    Paralyzed Veterans of America’s Advocacy Leads to New VA Spinal Cord Injury Center in Syracuse