PEI

Mental health nurse urges P.E.I. to allow psychiatric nurses

Dana Collicutt moved back to P.E.I. last fall hoping to work in the province as a registered psychiatric nurse, but the Island does not regulate that practice, so he is travelling to Nunavut for work.

Dana Collicutt travels from P.E.I. to Nunavut to work

Dana Collicutt at his desk at the mental health centre in Baker Lake, Nunavut. (Submitted by Dana Collicutt)

When Dana Collicutt moved back to P.E.I. from Alberta last fall he was hoping to spend more time with his family and secure a job in the field he'd spent close to a decade working in out west — as a registered psychiatric nurse (RPN).

After all, he thought, P.E.I., like many parts of Canada, appeared to be struggling to find trained mental health professionals.

"I was just lonely for home. I thought there would be a job there," he said.

But what he found was that RPNs aren't covered under the mandate of the College of Registered Nurses of P.E.I. (CRNPEI), which is allowed to register only RNs and nurse practitioners (NPs) in the province.

Without a way to be registered here, Collicutt wasn't eligible for any nursing jobs.

Collicutt said he has most of the training that a registered nurse acquires, except pediatrics and maternity. 

Dana Collicutt, far right, was hoping to spend more time with his family when he returned to P.E.I. Instead, he's finding himself working in Nunavut. He's shown here with his children Meghan, Nicholas, Jeremy and his wife Virginia. (Submitted by Dana Collicutt)

Postings for mental health related jobs on P.E.I. don't seem to recognize his qualifications as an RPN either, he said.

He's applied for several jobs on the Island but said he's been told he doesn't qualify, as he doesn't fall into the categories of professions regulated on P.E.I., including psychiatrists, psychologists, RNs, NPs, residential care workers and social workers.

Unable to find work in the Atlantic region, Collicutt is splitting his time between his home with his wife — who works in P.E.I. and lives in Bloomfield — and working at a health centre in Baker Lake, Nunavut, a community of about 2,000.

He's on his third two-month contract there. Collicutt's trip north takes two days, flying from Charlottetown to Montreal to Ottawa to Winnipeg, north to Rankin Inlet before finally landing in Baker Lake.

"The pay is good but I miss my family. I miss my wife. I miss my parents who are quite elderly," he said.

His parents live in Alberton, and he would like to be more available to help them out.

Career shift to mental health

After a couple of decades fishing and farming on P.E.I. he and his wife moved to Alberta in 2006 for a fresh start. There Collicutt worked as a health aide, then attended Ponoka College, graduating as an RPN in 2014.

His training focused on mental health and his position is often referred to as a mental health nurse.

"I took mental health because I was really attracted to it. And I want to help people," he said.

Home is never far from mind, and Collicutt features a photo from P.E.I. on his office door in Nunavut. (Dana Collicutt)

At the health centre in Baker Lake, he counsels those struggling with depression, anxiety, grief, and he is involved with suicide intervention and teaching coping skills. He also consults with psychiatrists on medications for clients and is a resource for the nearby school and for the RCMP.

"If they need assistance I can be there in five minutes," he said.

RPNs, he said, look at stabilizing those struggling with mental health and getting them back into the community.

"It's a win-win situation. But you really have to know what you're dealing with and what to expect as to how the mentally ill can act. I have all this and I would like to be able to help people on P.E.I.," said Collicutt.

Collicutt misses his dogs back on P.E.I. when he's away working in Nunavut. Jack, on the left, died three months ago, but Dori and Gracie are home waiting for him. (Submitted by Dana Collicutt)

The pandemic has deepened the mental health struggles, including the clients he works with in Baker Lake.

"We had quite a few suicides up here at the start of the year," he said, adding that in a community of 2,000, everybody seems to have a relative, friend or neighbour affected.

'Very frustrating'

Collicutt said he's contacted everyone he could think of on P.E.I. for help.

P.E.I. could be a leader ... pushing out RPNs for the rest of the Maritimes.— Dana Collicutt

"I've talked to the minister of health. I talked to the hiring board and I talked to the nurses' union," he said. "I've got no real answers except at this time it's not possible.

"That's just very frustrating."

Right now, RPNs are recognized in all provinces and territories west of Ontario, with those who work in the N.W.T. and Nunavut operating under a license through Alberta, Manitoba or Saskatchewan. There are more than 6,000 RPNs  in Canada.

"You know P.E.I. could be a leader in the eastern provinces, and they could be pushing out RPNs for the rest of the Maritimes," he said.

The community of Baker Lake, Nunavut, is home to about 2,000 people. (CBC)

He said if change happens to allow RPNs to work in P.E.I., it likely won't be before he retires in the next five years or so. But he hopes P.E.I. does move in this direction.

But with medical staff working with more and more patients struggling with mental health, he hopes P.E.I. does recognize the profession. 

A spokesperson for the College of Registered Nurses of P.E.I. told CBC while RPNs aren't covered by its mandate, if the province asked the college to look at including them, it would.

In an email to CBC News, Barbara Lowe, chair of the Registered Psychiatric Nurse Regulators of Canada, said her group plans to start a feasibility study next month to look at introducing RPNs to the Maritime provinces, including examining regulation, employment and education.

Collicutt with his sons at West Point, P.E.I. (Submitted by Dana Collicutt)

RPNs are one of the three regulated nursing professions in Canada, but remain separate from RNs, said the P.E.I. Department of Health and Wellness in a statement.

"The P.E.I. government is looking to expand mental health services and the Department of Health and Wellness and [Health PEI], are exploring whether RPNs may represent a new source of health-care providers for mental health," it said.

All health professionals working for Health PEI must belong to a bargaining unit and be registered with their licensing body to practise in the province, said a statement from Health PEI. 

More from CBC P.E.I.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sally Pitt

Producer

Sally Pitt is a producer with CBC and has worked as a journalist for more than 30 years in online, TV, radio and print. She specializes in justice issues and also works with the CBC Atlantic Investigative Unit. You can reach her at sally.pitt@cbc.ca.

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