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.