Many investigators have analyzed the effectiveness of the cardiac care unit (as a model of a disability oriented, specially staffed, geographically isolated unit) in altering outcome following acute myocardial infarction. Little data are available, however, on the efficacy of caring for patients with stroke on specially staffed disability oriented units. Of 667 patients with stroke recently discharged from the Burke Rehabilitation Center, 589 were admitted to the stroke unit (SU group) and 78 were admitted to other units (NSU group). Statistical analysis showed that the SU patients were significantly weaker, had longer onset-admission intervals, and exhibited more concurrent medical problems and neurologic deficits. There were no statistically significant intergroup differences in age, sex, and distribution of weakness. Both groups had similar treatment programs provided by staff who had rotated through the stroke unit. Ability to perform activities of daily living (dressing, feeding, hygiene, bowel and bladder routines) and length of hospitalization were similar for both groups. SU patients walked better and went home more frequently than NSU patients. These data indicate that even in a rehabilitation center specializing in treating functional disabilities, patients with stroke are more likely to improve if placed on a disability oriented unit than if they are admitted to mixed disability units which are scattered throughout the hospital.