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Coming to the Emergency Department

Emergency Care at St. Mary’s – 24/7

Care is here when you need it most. If you are experiencing a medical emergency - a severe illness or life-threatening injury - call 9-1-1 or go to your nearest emergency department.

We are experiencing a very high volume of patients seeking care. Please be prepared to wait as we prioritize the needs of each patient. 

Know Your Care Options

While your regional hospitals are always here for you when you are having an emergency, most other illnesses can be managed by another healthcare provider. Your Waterloo and Wellington region hospitals, in partnership with our Ontario Health Teams - KW4, Cambridge North Dumfries, and Guelph Wellington - have partnered to create a Know Your Care Options website and guide to help our communities know where to go to get the right care at the right time.

Visit knowyourcareoptions.ca to learn more including:

  • When to go to the emergency department
  • When to see your family doctor or nurse practitioner
  • When to go to urgent care or walk-in clinics if you do not have a family doctor or nurse practitioner
  • A list of urgent care and walk-in clinics across Waterloo and Wellington regions A list of local pharmacies
  • Home and community care information and more

We ask for everyone’s patience as our teams prioritize the needs of each patient. The best care is the right care, in the right place. 

Unsure of what type of care you may need?

We recognize that visiting the Emergency Department is a stressful experience, and understand that you will be anxious about the waiting time. Wait times fluctuate based on current demands on the department in terms of numbers of people being treated and the complexity of their illness or injury. St. Mary’s was first in Ontario to offer a website which estimates in in real time what the waits will be for the least acute patients. 

If you are concerned about your wait time, please speak to your nurse. If your condition changes while you are waiting (your pain gets worse, or better, or new symptoms appear) please also notify your nurse immediately. Our team will do their best to reassess your condition, but your assistance in keeping them informed about your health will help to ensure the best possible experience in the department.

When you arrive, you will register using our new Self-Check-In Kiosk. You will enter your first and last name and the reason for your visit.

Once you have completed your check-in, please have a seat and wait for your name to be called. Please have your health card ready and remove any extra layers such as a jacket or sweater as the nurse will also take your blood pressure. The Triage Nurse will then assess the urgency of your care using pre-established criteria (known as the Canadian Triage and Acuity Scale). After you have been seen by the Triage Nurse, you will be registered by a department clerk. You will then wait to be seen by a physician or Nurse Practitioner, based on your triage assessment, and in comparison to the severity and illness of the other people also seeking treatment.

Like all hospitals, patients with life-threatening illnesses and conditions are seen immediately. Please be aware that as the Region’s cardiac and respiratory centre, St. Mary’s sees a high number of highly acute (very ill) patients. This may mean a longer wait for those with non-urgent or less-urgent conditions. It is also important to note that even if you arrive via ambulance, you will be assessed by a triage nurse. Arrival by ambulance does not mean you will be seen any sooner than those already waiting for care.

As of September 15, 2023, St. Mary’s General Hospital, Grand River Hospital and Cambridge Memorial Hospital are trialling a new program called Fit2Sit, in partnership with the Region of Waterloo Paramedic Service. Patients who arrive at our emergency departments by ambulance will sit in a waiting room chair upon their arrival if they are well enough to do so.

The program aims to reduce the amount of time paramedics need to sit and wait with patients arriving at emergency departments by ambulance. By being Fit2Sit, you are freeing up stretchers for others in need and allowing ambulances to get back on the road to provide emergency care to our communities.

How does Fit2Sit work?

  • After an assessment, the paramedic will determine if the patient qualifies to wait in the waiting room at the hospital.
  • Paramedics use specific inclusion and exclusion criteria to determine if their patient is fit to sit in the waiting room
  • When they arrive at the emergency department, the paramedic will take the patient directly to the waiting room, sign them into the kiosk and have the patient sit in the waiting room front row chairs

 What changes for you as a patient?

  • If you arrive at one of our three emergency departments by ambulance you may end up waiting in the waiting room with other patients
  • Hospital staff will monitor each patient who is Fit2Sit while they wait to be seen by a physician or nurse. Patients are asked to inform the triage nurse immediately if their condition changes.
  • This does not change the care you receive. The sickest patients will still be seen first.
  • Current emergency wait times can be found on our website.

To make your visit to the Emergency Department as smooth as possible, there are a number of things you can do:

  • Have your Ontario Health Insurance (OHIP) card ready. If you are from outside Ontario, have your health insurance information ready.
  • Bring any medications that you take on a regular basis with you:
    • Prescribed medications
    • Medications you take that are not prescribed (ibuprofen, Tylenol, cough/cold products)
    • Nutritional supplements including vitamins and minerals
    • Recreational drugs
  • Have any other important information (such as allergies) ready.
  • Please talk with a nurse if you decide to leave without seeing a doctor.
  • Please do not eat or drink anything without first checking with a nurse.
  • If you do not understand English well, please bring along a translator, or ask for an interpreter.
  • Please wash your hands frequently. Hand sanitizers are available throughout the Emergency Department.

St. Mary’s Emergency Department DOES NOT prescribe or refill narcotic prescriptions. There are no exceptions to this policy. Additionally, no narcotics are kept in the Emergency Department. If you require a narcotic prescription, please see your family physician or specialist.

Threatening and violent behaviour are not tolerated in the Emergency Department. Patients and visitors who are considered to pose a safety risk to our staff, physicians, volunteers or other patients, will be removed from the hospital. Our staff, physicians and volunteers are here to help you. We pledge to treat you with dignity and respect, and expect the same treatment in return.

When a heart attack strikes, rapid treatment significantly increases your odds of surviving.

St. Mary’s Regional Cardiac Care Centre provides a gold standard of care on a 24/7 basis, by fast-tracking access to assessment and treatment with angioplasty to open arteries that are blocked during a heart attack.

Suspected heart attack patients who have not travelled by ambulance to the Emergency Department will be moved immediately to a dedicated room in the department for rapid assessment. If appropriate, they will be transferred immediately to our Cardiac Catheterization Lab for catheterization and emergency angioplasty, to clear blocked arteries.

Calling 911 is the safest option when you or a loved one experience symptoms of a heart attack, because paramedics can immediately begin assessment and care. If you are having an ST elevation myocardial infarction (STEMI), a heart attack caused by a blockage in an artery, paramedics contact St. Mary’s and proceed here immediately, bypassing other hospitals which do not offer cardiac catheterization.

If you are a candidate for emergency catheterization, you will be taken directly to our Cardiac Catheterization Lab, for further assessment and emergency angioplasty, if appropriate, with a goal of having the artery re-opened within 90 minutes.

For more information about Emergency Department services, please contact:
Wendy James, Manager, Emergency Department
519-749-6578 ext. 6848