Nurse offers comfort to patients by singing at work

When Vickie Jones of Eldorado sings the first few words of Patsy Cline’s “Crazy,” it’s easy to understand why she is known as the singing nurse.

Her voice resonates in a way that turns heads and generates smiles. And she wasn’t afraid to sing on the job while nursing hospitalized patients.

“I think singing helped my patients, especially the ones dealing with dementia,” Jones said. “I could get them to take their pills, to eat. They trusted me.”

Jones, 59, retired Oct. 1 from UPMC Altoona after 38 years’ service. She said she enjoyed nursing but chose to retire because of problems with her knees.

“It’s too much for me to run up and down the halls anymore,” Jones said. “And I’m looking forward to my first winter in 38 years when I don’t have to get up and go to work.”

Born and raised in Altoona, Jones sang in the chorus at Roosevelt Junior High School and at Altoona High School, but she never considered a career as a singer. After high school, she enrolled at Altoona Hospital School of Nursing and upon graduating in June 1975, she immediately went to work in a profession she grew to love.

“I really couldn’t imagine doing anything else,” Jones said. “I loved my patients, and I loved bedside nursing.”

She also loves singing and credits her father, the late Samuel E. Jones, for developing her taste in music.

“Country is my favorite,” Jones said. “It was my dad’s, too, but he enjoyed the old type of country music … like Conway Twitty, Merle Haggard, Patsy Cline. I listened to them all the time when I was growing up.”

Her repertoire includes their songs and others, including ones popularized by Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, Carrie Underwood, Blake Shelton and Reba McIntire.

“Whatever pops into my head,” Jones said.

That includes a few hymns, too, like “Amazing Grace” and “The Old Rugged Cross.”

“I used to tell everybody to come to my floor and listen to Vickie sing,” said friend and former co-worker Jo Neugebauer, who retired from Altoona Hospital in 2007. “She brightened up everybody’s day with her singing.”

“Even when she’s walking down the hall, she could start singing,” said Joyce Haney, nurse manager for Tower 10. “We’d have different patients ask: Who is that with the beautiful voice?”

The late Ann Dionis of Altoona had nothing but praise for Jones, who she described as “always happy and singing” in a 2004 nomination for the Best Nurse in Blair County title.

“I consider myself very fortunate having Vickie as one of my nurses,” Dionis wrote in the nomination published in the Altoona Mirror. “She is very efficient in her job, nothing is too much trouble for her, she goes out of her way to give her patients the very best of care.”

Jones, who smiles while remembering Dionis, said she is more likely to remember a patient’s face than name. The same goes for patients, Jones said.

Within the last year, one of her former patients dropped off a package at the hospital addressed to “The Singing Nurse on Tower 10.” There was no doubt, Jones said, about the intended recipient.

“She made me a cassette with all these old country songs, some I didn’t even know. It was just great,” Jones said.

Haney said she and her co-workers miss Jones.

“In all my years, she’s the only person I ever knew who would sing like that,” Haney said.

As for retirement, Jones said she’s ready take it easy for a while, do some traveling and may someday return to the hospital as a volunteer.

Somebody will have to sing to the patients, she said.