Gridlock FAQs and Policies

Ontario Wait Times

See how the Emergency Department at the Health Sciences Centre compares to other facilities around the province.

Emergency Department Wait Times

Walk-In Clinics

Thunder Bay has a number of walk-in clinics that may be more convenient and suitable for non-emergency needs. Click here to see the up-to-date list of clinics and hours (maintained by

Note: if you are having a medical emergency, please call 911 immediately.

What Puts the Health Sciences Centre Into Gridlock?

If you have been to the Health Sciences Centre lately you may have heard the overhead announcement “Gridlock is in effect. Please activate your departmental protocols.” Many people then ask: “What is Gridlock?”

Gridlock is a condition at the Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre when there are more patients waiting for admission than there are beds available. However, not all patients in a bed still require Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre services. Delays in discharges can occur for a variety of reasons including waiting for:

  • Formal discharge
  • Physician consultation
  • Tests and/or results
  • Interprofessional team assessment
  • A bed in another acute care facility, long-term care facility, rehabilitation facility, or supportive housing
  • Transportation home or to another facility
  • Conference with family to plan discharge
  • Assessment for community services

As a result, some patients admitted through the Emergency Department (ED) have to wait there until a bed becomes available in another area of the Health Sciences Centre. When more than 10 patients in the ED are waiting for beds, it impacts the ability of the department to provide safe/timely care to other seriously ill patients visiting the ED for assessment and treatment.

One of the biggest causes of gridlock is the inability to discharge patients who no longer need hospital care – patients who cannot go home because there are insufficient supports at home, or are waiting for a bed in a rehabilitation hospital, nursing home or other assisted living facility. These patients are described as needing alternate level of care (ALC). An inability to discharge ALC patients is one of the root causes of long Emergency Department wait times.

Chart showing how the number of ALC or ‘Alternate Level of Care’ patients directly affects Gridlock and overcapacity at the Health Sciences Centre.

What We Do During Gridlock to Accommodate Our Patients

By definition, Gridlock means we are operating at overcapacity. Once the Health Sciences Centre is in Gridlock, we have to implement special, temporary measures to accommodate all of our patients. Our goal is simple: to ensure that our patients receive the best care possible in these difficult times.

However reaching that goal can be anything but simple. It is difficult to accommodate everyone and meet everyone’s expectations. The entire facility responds to increased volumes of patients and acknowledges that patients will be in unusual accommodations, such as family lounges.

To communicate that the Health Sciences Centre is in Gridlock, we have implemented an overhead paging system so both patients and staff understand that these extraordinary measures are in place. Extra staff is sometimes needed to service the increased demands. When Gridlock is activated, it triggers activity by hospital staff and partners in healthcare to implement protocols to assist with overcapacity pressures.

These temporary procedures help us manage overcapacity periods, but they are only short-term solutions. The Health Sciences Centre is working with our community partners to find solutions to the system issues that contribute to Gridlock. We strive to provide excellent care and would like any suggestions on how we can improve during these difficult times.

We encourage you to fill out your Patient Satisfaction Survey or email suggestions to:

TBRHSC Gridlock – FAQs

    1. What is Gridlock?A. Gridlock is a situation at the Health Sciences Centre where there are more patients than beds available. As a result, new patients often have to wait in the Emergency Department for a bed to open up.
    2. Does Gridlock mean that the Health Sciences Centre is closed? Will I or my family be refused care?A. No – never. Anyone who requires emergency services will be treated – you will NEVER be turned away. Patients will be treated based on their need so wait times for non-urgent care may be longer during Gridlock.
    3. Why aren’t there any beds?A. The Health Sciences Centre is an acute care hospital, which means we provide specialized medical care that is not available anywhere else. However, many patients still require some form of healthcare after their hospital visit, be it in a long-term facility, through community services, or through home care. In most cases, these services need to be in place before they can leave the Health Sciences Centre, so even though they are medically safe to leave, they simply have nowhere else to go until other services are available.
    4. Is the Health Sciences Centre too small?

A. No. We have 375 acute care beds. At the height of Gridlock, we had over 425 patients, with a peak of over 80 patients waiting for alternate level of care services. If all those patients had been transferred to the most appropriate care setting, such as a long-term care facility, we would have been operating under capacity.

  1. Will I be sent home early to make room for other patients?A. No. Nobody will ever be “discharged early” or be otherwise refused services. Those who require acute care will always have access to acute care.
  2. What are you doing to help long-term care patients get the services they need?A. We are currently working with our partners to put a program in place that will allow patients to receive the care they need at home. From there, patients may decide to stay at home or move to a long-term care facility. They receive the alternate level of care they need, and a bed is made available for someone else who needs it.
  3. Is this only a “Thunder Bay” problem?A. No. Hospitals across Ontario are experiencing this problem. It is due to many, many factors, including an aging population. However, our Emergency Department was one of the busiest last year with over 100,000 patients seen per year. This can make the problem extra challenging. We are working with our community partners to streamline services so all people of Thunder Bay and Northwestern Ontario have the right care, at the right place, and the right time.