Surge Capacity at our Hospital

Surge capacity is a situation at the Health Sciences Centre where there are more patients than beds available. It used to be known as “Gridlock”. When in Surge capacity, new patients often have to wait in the Emergency Department for a bed to open up.
We are regularly in an overcapacity situation. The daily admitted patient census is consistently above 400.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Are there enough beds?
  • Yes, there are generally enough beds for acute care patients since we are an acute care hospital. A large contributing factor in surge capacity is the number of Alternate Level of Care, or ALC patients. At times, we have over 80 ALC patients. If they could be discharged to more appropriate care settings, we would actually be under capacity and have empty beds.
  • Is this only a ‘Thunder Bay’ problem?
  • Hospitals across Ontario and Canada are experiencing this problem. We are not exclusive in this, but we are unique. Our Emergency Department is one of the busiest in Ontario with about 9000 visits per month, which can compound the problem.
    Unlike most hospitals in Ontario, we cannot divert patients to another Emergency Department until occupancy is reduced. In addition, of all the specialized acute care hospitals in Ontario, ours is the furthest from a referral centre. We are the only trauma centre, have the only NICU, the only stroke unit, etc. in Northwestern Ontario. This means that our doors always remain open to the people of Northwestern Ontario who need specialized, acute care.
  • What are you doing about it?
  • We continually work with our community partners to find solutions to the system issues that contribute to surge capacity. Together, we are working to streamline services so that patients and families in Northwestern Ontario can get the right care, at the right time.
    The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care is investing in community care, which alleviates pressures here at our Hospital.

    We encourage you to submit your suggestions for improvement or comments via the Compliments and Concerns Form at this link:

  • Can you still provide quality care?
  • We are always committed to delivering quality patient care. Anyone who requires emergency and specialized acute care services will always have access to it at our Hospital. Nobody is ever “discharged early” or refused services. However, patients are treated based on their need, so wait times for non-urgent care may be longer during periods of surge capacity.
    Whether or not we are in surge capacity, we always strive to deliver the best care possible for the people we serve.

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.