Hundreds of brain- and spine-injured workers have passed through the doors of Craig Hospital thanks to ITT Hartford Insurance Co.

Now a 1995 Honda Civic has passed through its ceiling.The vehicle, modified and donated by the workers-compensation insurer this month, will be used to teach wheelchair-bound patients how to enter and exit a car.

It was carefully lifted into the three-story transitional-care facility the rehabilitation hospital is scheduled to open next June. The hospital handled the cost of lifting the car into the unfinished structure, Sue Honeyman, the insurer's spokeswoman, said Friday.

This is the first time a transfer car has been donated by the insurance company, Ms. Honeyman said.

"This was just for Craig. They had a special need for it. They contacted us, and we felt it was a very good thing," she said.

The two-door car "had been in an accident, so we were able to recycle it and give it a new life," she said. But "they needed it in a hurry. We looked at thousands of cars."

"Learning to get from the wheelchair to the car is a big step toward independence for many of our patients," said Denny O'Malley, president of the Englewood, Colo. hospital. "Most of our patients were drivers before they were injured, so the ability to get into a vehicle and go places unassisted is important in rebuilding their lives."

It also helps keep down the cost of rehabilitation services ITT Hartford pays for under its workers-compensation coverage.

"It is not a stretch to say that over the lifetime of a patient, hundreds of thousands of dollars are spent just on a single patient," said Erich Kirshner, a spokesman for the hospital. "Our relationship with insurers is good because we've proven to them that by going to a specialized facility, we save them money over the long term."

Ms. Honeyman said that the average three-month stay at Craig for patients suffering "catastrophic" brain or spine injuries costs ITT Hartford over $100,000.

The hospital "was very picky about what kind of car and its dimensions," said Mr. Kirshner. "We wanted to get a car that was as up to date as could possibly be and likely to be years down the road. We were guessing cars are not going to get bigger. The majority of our patients will get smaller cars rather than larger cars."

Most important was the Civic's seat height, which is very close to the height of the average wheelchair seat, according to Mr. Kirshner. "This type of car is popular with our patients. The height of the seat and the height of car are pretty darn close, so it is a pretty straight transfer," he said.

The hospital has received donations from other insurance and reinsurance companies, he said, but usually they are financial in nature and not four- wheel.

"This (carlift) was a unique kind of event. It was a significant donation, and we certainly appreciated it," Mr. Kirshner said.