Your emergency department visit

To access the mental health mobile crisis team call 902-429-8167 or toll-free at 1-888-429-8167. This is a 24 hour, seven days a week phone service to help you or your loved one cope with mental health and addiction challenges in the moment. 

Call 811 for health advice, 911 for emergencies

What can you expect when you arrive at the emergency department for care?

The first person you’ll see when you arrive in one of our emergency departments is a triage paramedic or nurse. 

Triage staff will ask you questions about what’s brought you here. They will also ask about existing health conditions and any medications you are taking. They will check your breathing, pulse blood pressure and temperature too.

Once triage staff have gathered your information and measured your vital signs, they will assign you a score between one and five. This affects the order in which you are seen.

We use the Canadian Triage Acuity Scale (CTAS) to assess people who come to our emergency departments. CTAS is used across Canada as the standard triage system in emergency medicine.

Level 1: Life-threatening

Common examples:

  • Your heart has stopped or you’ve experienced a life-threatening trauma. You’ve likely come in by ambulance. You will receive treatment right away.

Level 2: Emergency
Common examples
You are:

  • having symptoms of a heart attack or stroke
  • not conscious
  • having a lot of trouble breathing 
  • bleeding severely

Level 3: Urgent
Common examples
You are experiencing:

  • head injury, deep cut or foreign object in eyes/ears 
  • chest pain (not related to known heart problem) 
  • signs of serious infection 
  • urgent mental health concerns

Level 4: Less urgent
Common examples

  • You have back, arm or leg pain (breaks/sprains) or cuts.

Level 5: Not urgent
Common examples

  • You have a sore throat, ear infection, minor cuts or bumps, or need a prescription refill.

How long will I wait for care?

Emergency department wait times depend on:

  • How urgently you and others need care. 
  • How busy the emergency department is. 
  • Once you have been assessed, you may need to have further tests (e.g. x-rays or lab tests) or be seen by a specialist. 

Why is that person going ahead of me?

Patients are seen by a doctor in order of need. 

It is not always possible to tell how ill someone is by looking at them. 

A patient who appears ok may need attention right away. 

Some patients need to be seen by a specialist, such as a neurologist or a cardiologist. If this specialist is available, their patient will be brought in to see him or her.

In some emergency departments, people with minor injuries can be treated in a different area, either inside or outside of the department.

The waiting room is almost empty. Why the wait?

If an ambulance brings in a patient who needs immediate life-saving care (Level 1), that patient will be brought directly into the emergency department for care. 

The waiting room could be almost empty, yet someone is receiving life-saving care within the department.

Do patients who arrive by ambulance receive care more quickly?

Patients who arrive by ambulance are triaged like other patients. 

If an ambulance brings in a patient who needs immediate life-saving care (Level 1), that patient will be brought directly into the emergency department for care. 

Otherwise, they will wait for care according to their triage level, the same as other patients. 

What else can I do?

  • For non-urgent matters, your family practice or a local walk-in clinic may be a more appropriate place for care. You’ll also likely have a shorter wait.
  • If you do not have a family practice, call 811 or visit to join a provincial wait list. 
  • Call 811 to speak with a registered nurse and get advice on non-urgent medical matters. This service is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 
  • Make sure that you and your family have enough prescribed medication, especially over vacations, holidays and weekends. 
  • Your community pharmacist may offer advice on non-urgent medication matters.
  • If you have a chronic illness, keep your regular appointments with your doctor.
  • Ask your doctor what changes in your medical condition would need urgent medical attention.
  • If you decide to leave the emergency department without being seen, please let our triage staff know.