Historical Overview

Treatment of the mentally ill has reflected the attitude of society to mental illness; in turn, those working with the mentally ill have also influenced societal attitudes. The practice of psychiatric nursing, which was developed in the first half of the twentieth century, played a significant part in contemporary understanding of mental illness.

The Provincial Hospital for the Insane was opened at Ponoka, Alberta on July 4, 1911. In the 1921 report by the National Committee for Mental Hygiene, it was stated that, "...while nurses are faithful in their conduct of duties, there is urgent need for the establishment of a training school". In 1931, Dr. Barrager, the Medical Superintendent who had previously worked at Brandon, Manitoba, opened the training school at Ponoka, Alberta. In 1948, a class of 18 graduated from the three-year course at the Provincial Mental Institution at Oliver. The male graduates were known as Certified Attendants; the female graduates as Graduate Mental Nurses. A meeting was held on April 11, 1950, at Ponoka, with representatives from the Alberta Institute Oliver. Mr. Ted James was elected as the first President of the Alberta Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) and, on May 1, 1950, the APNA was officially registered under the Societies Act. The Psychiatric Nursing Training Act was passed in 1955 and, in 1963; the new Psychiatric Nurses' Act of Alberta came into being. In that same year, the name of the Association was changed to the Psychiatric Nurses Association of Alberta (PNAA). The 1970's were years of struggle and growth, and included the signing of the Reciprocity Agreement by all four western provincial associations. Concerns about the shortage of nursing staff in Alberta in the early eighties prompted Premier Lougheed to strike the Nursing Manpower Education and Implementation Committee (NMEIC). In the meantime, in 1981 the PNAA Council completed the first draft of the act to govern psychiatric nursing in the Province of Alberta.

The NMEIC Report, presented in March 1983, contained several recommendations regarding mental health nursing among which was that, in ten years time, all mental health care be provided by Registered Nurses who would have additional preparation in this area. Other recommendations included streamlining the psychiatric nursing educational program with that of the RN program. "Bridging" programs to enable RPNs to become RNs were to be expanded and the RPN was noted as a "terminal credential". Following the preparation of several drafts of the Registered Psychiatric Nurses' Act, the Association learned that following the passage of the AARN Nursing Profession Act, further professional statutes would be placed on hold. The government undertook a review of the proliferation of such acts and attempted to draft "umbrella" legislation under which several professions could be regulated. The Health Occupations Act was presented to the PNAA as an option. Although the Association viewed this Act as being unacceptable, lobbying efforts for its own legislation were unsuccessful.

The Association was invited to submit proposed amendments to the Health Occupations Act. (now known as the Health Disciplines Act). The proposals submitted by the PNAA were those that had been sought in the "stand-alone" legislation. All recommendations were incorporated.

At the 1985 Annual General Meeting, a motion was passed to seek regulation under the Health Disciplines Act and with the acceptance of the application for regulation, the PNAA Legislative Committee concentrated its efforts on the development of Regulations and Bylaws. January 1, 1988 saw the formal proclamation of the Psychiatric Nurse Regulation to the Health Disciplines Act. The new legislative statute brought the responsibility for the licensing, regulating and discipline of members. In the same year, the title was officially changed to Registered Psychiatric Nurses' Association of Alberta (RPNAA).Note: More in-depth historical information about the RPNAA is available in the booklet, RPNAA 40 Years.

The RPNAA then prepared for proclamation as the profession came under the new Health Professions Act (HPA) which replaced the Health Disciplines Act for RPNs and RMDNs on November 25, 2005. The HPA brings all self-regulating health professions in Alberta under one legislative Act. The HPA establishes a common framework for governance, registration, continuing competence, discipline and restricted activities. This changed the name of the regulatory body for Registered Psychiatric Nurses to the College of Registered Psychiatric Nurses of Alberta (CRPNA).

While the introduction of this new legislation does not significantly change the way RPNs provide care to patients, it does include new regulations and requirements that impact issues such as continuing competence, professional conduct, supervision of students and unregulated workers.