Skip to content

Frequently Asked Questions

Share This Page

Frequently Asked Questions about Emergency and Urgent Care

What are Emergency and Urgent Care Centre Wait Times?

Our current wait times page shows the Emergency and Urgent Care Centre wait times at all Niagara Health sites. The wait time posted refers to the length of time between when you arrive to the front desk to check in with the triage nurse and when you see a doctor or nurse practitioner. It is not a guarantee of the length of time that you will wait.

How will I be assessed for my turn to be seen?

The Emergency Department and Urgent Care Centre does not work on a first come, first served system. It’s important to know that critical patients will be seen first, whether they arrive on their own or via ambulance. Upon arrival, you will be assessed using the Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale (CTAS). You will be seen by a doctor based on that assessment. In simple terms, the sickest patients will be seen most quickly.

 You can read about what to expect during a visit to the Emergency Department in Ontario here.

Why are other people being seen before me?

The sickest patients are always seen first, even though they may arrive after other patients. On arrival, each patient is assessed by a triage nurse using the Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale (CTAS) to ensure patients are triaged fairly and consistently in the same way at every hospital in Canada. Patients with the most serious life- or limb-threatening injuries or illness are treated first, followed by those with less urgent illness or medical needs.

What are the triage levels of the Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale (CTAS)?

The Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale (CTAS) is a tool used across the country and internationally to ensure patients are triaged fairly and consistently in the same way at every hospital. There are five triage levels, Level 1 being the most critical and Level 5 being non-urgent.

At Niagara Health, our Emergency Departments treat patients from Level 1 to 3 and our Urgent Care Centres treat patients between Level 4 and 5.

CTAS triage levels:

Level 1 – Critical — obviously life threatening
Conditions requiring resuscitation, including cardiac arrest, shock and major trauma

Level 2 – Emergent — potential threat to life or limb
Examples include asthma flare-up when medicine isn’t working, altered mental state, chest pain that suggests heart problems

Level 3 – Urgent — a condition or serious problem requiring emergency intervention
Examples include abdominal pain, mild dehydration, kidney stone or shortness of breath

Level 4 – Less Urgent — conditions which because of distress or potential for complications would benefit from intervention
Examples include vomiting and diarrhea with no dehydration, bladder infections, lacerations and earaches

Level 5 – Non Urgent — conditions which are non-urgent and/or which might be part of a chronic problem
Examples include sore throat and insect bites

How do you calculate Emergency Department and Urgent Care Centre wait times?

The wait time is calculated by averaging the time that each patient has waited over the last six hours.

Your personal experience may vary from these posted wait times based on a number of factors, including:

  • Patients with more life-threatening situations arriving in the Emergency Department or Urgent Care Centre after you
  • Volume of patients waiting to be seen

Who updates the wait times on your website? How often is it refreshed?

Wait times are updated automatically every 20 minutes using our computer systems and hospital data.

The wait times posted can change quickly and dramatically depending on patient need. An incident such as a serious trauma can unexpectedly and significantly impact the wait time for others.

What factors will affect how long I will wait?

A number of circumstances can affect how long you may spend in the Emergency Department:

  • When you go – Some days or times of day may be busier than others.
  • Unforeseen circumstances – If there is a big accident in the area or an infectious disease outbreak, you may need to wait longer than usual.
  • Collecting your health information – Not all information is readily available and may require time for confirmation.
  • Patients with serious or potentially life-threatening health problems – High-urgency patients usually require immediate care. They receive treatment first. This means that low-urgency patients may have to spend more time in the emergency department.
  • If you need immediate tests or diagnostic imaging – Getting the tests (e.g. blood) or images (e.g. x-ray and ultrasound) and results will add to the total length of your visit.
  • If you need to be admitted to hospital – You may need to wait until a hospital bed becomes available.
  • If there are limited beds available in other areas of the hospital – If there are delays in transferring patients to inpatient units, it causes delays for other patients waiting for a treatment space in the Emergency Department. 

How does the number of patients in other areas of the hospital impact my wait time in the Emergency Department?

Like other hospitals, Niagara Health cares for a number of patients who may no longer require the resources of the hospital. Many of these patients cannot be safely discharged to another setting without home care or additional services being set up in advance. Often, patients need different levels of care and stay in their hospital bed until space becomes available at other healthcare facilities, such as a long-term care home. Delays occur in the Emergency Department as patients continue to be admitted to an inpatient room but have to wait for patients elsewhere in the hospital to be discharged.

What happens after I am seen by a doctor or nurse practitioner?

There are several steps of care in the Emergency Department and Urgent Care Centre:

  1. Triage: Where your health issue is assessed by a triage nurse.
  2. Registration: Where we collect your health history, contact information and consent for treatment.
  3. Diagnosis: Where an emergency care trained doctor or nurse practitioner will consult with you about your health issue.
    1. During this time, they may order tests such as blood tests, x-ray or other diagnostic imaging tests to determine what treatment is needed. The results could be available within one to two hours, while you are in the Emergency Department. However, some test results may require a longer wait.
    2. Your doctor or nurse practitioner may also want to consult with other members of the health care team such as lab assistants, respiratory therapists or specialists to help confirm a diagnosis.
    3. The staff will help make sure you are comfortable and informed about what tests are being completed and how long they may take.
  4. Treatment: Where your doctor or nurse practitioner will start your course of treatment, recommend next steps and write any prescriptions.
  5. Discharge or admission to the hospital: Based on your treatment plan, your doctor or nurse practitioner will admit you to an inpatient unit or send you home with written instructions to continue treatment.

Are there additional costs related to a visit to the Emergency Department or Urgent Care Centre?

The Ontario Health Insurance Plan (OHIP) covers most hospital services, but there are a few things that are not covered:

  1. Ambulance charge of $45 (OHIP covers the remainder of the cost)
  2. Medical equipment such as crutches, casts, knee immobilizers
  3. Charges for a semi-private or private room if requested by the patient and assuming they are admitted
  4. Transportation home from the hospital
  5. Parking

If you are not covered by OHIP or your OHIP card has expired, you will be charged for your hospital visit. If you receive any of these services, please see the cashier to make payment before you leave the hospital.

 Learn about paying your bill here.

How can I share feedback about my care?

We work with our healthcare teams to enhance the hospital experience for our patients, families and visitors, and feedback is very important. If you would like to provide feedback, or request this information in another language, please contact our Patient Relations team by phone at 905-378-4647 ext. 44423 or by e-mail.


The displaying of wait times on the Niagara Health System website is for general information only and is not medical advice or a recommendation that you choose a different Emergency Department or Urgent Care Centre.

Niagara Health System clearly disclaims all liability for the use of this information and for any claims, actions, demands or suits arising from such use.

Niagara Health System does not assume, and is not responsible for any liability whatsoever arising from any person’s use of this website, including any decisions made about their personal health as a result of using this website.

Niagara Health System