An artist’s rendition illustrates plans for a state-of-the-art rehab hospital near Richmond, Virginia.

Sharon Drennan, the executive director of the Virginia Chapter of United Spinal Association was all smiles when she heard about plans for a new rehab center.

When two of the largest health systems in Virginia announced they are collaborating to build a state-of-the-art, 114-bed, $119 million rehabilitation hospital just outside Richmond, there were smiles all around the room.

That’s because Drennan knew that in addition to dramatically upgrading the rehab options for the region, the new facility would revolutionize her chapter’s ability to connect with and help the local SCI/D community. Simply having a state-of-the-art facility in the chapter’s backyard would have helped some, but Drennan and other chapter leaders had been working with VCU Health and Sheltering Arms, the two health systems, for months to plan the new project, and one of the CEOs had personally told her they were planning to have a space for her organization in the new facility.

“I was just thrilled,” recalls Drennan. “Now we’re going to be connected to the [people with] new injuries at the time they really need us — we’ll be right there.”

The chapter already offers peer mentoring and support groups for people with injuries and their families, but Drennan worries that many people fall through the cracks in the transition from the hospital.

“We hear a lot of people say, ‘I wish I would have known about you when I was in rehab. Where were you then?’ If we’re connecting to families earlier in the process, we might be able to alleviate a lot of headaches and questions,” she says.

The chapter played a vital role in establishing the need for the facility and shaping its offerings. Drennan and members Richard Bagby and Cole Sydnor attended multiple envisioning meetings and repeatedly testified about their own personal experiences.

“VCU and Sheltering Arms started talking about it and came to us because they wanted to hear the stories about why we were going out of state when somebody was newly injured,” says Drennan, whose son, Rob, did his rehab at Kennedy Krieger Hospital in Baltimore. “What was happening was people with new injuries would be at VCU for the trauma piece, then they’d leave the state for inpatient rehab and then come back and do their outpatient rehab at Sheltering Arms. The medical community was looking at that and asking ‘why?’”

“The idea behind this collaboration is that folks in the mid- Atlantic region — not just Virginia — will have a place to go, so we don’t have to go to Atlanta or Colorado.”

The hospital is expected to open in 2020.

For more information on our Virginia Chapter, visit