Denver police physical therapist treats officers, saves city millions

DENVER -- Police officers in Denver have a new way to get healthy if they are injured with a physical therapist on staff.

It’s an idea borrowed from the Denver Fire Department and one that has saved the city millions of dollars.

Daniel Jonte started treating officers in 2016 as part of a pilot program.

"That first month was a building phase, we had 46 patients that first month," Jonte said. "The next month, we had 135 patients. The word got out quickly.”

He now treats about 150 patients per month, and he has a waiting list of several weeks. In total, he has had 2,600 patient visits.

Jonte said getting and staying healthy are an important part of an officer’s job.

“We need to change the culture to go to PT when not injured so we can prevent or reduce the risk of further injury," Jonte said. "We really want these guys to be as strong as possible so we can protect them even if they do get injured.

"If he is stronger going into something that might be harmful event, a foot chase or confrontation, he’s going to be strong enough through that. If he gets injured, hopefully he will bounce back quicker because he was stronger before it all.”

Jonte has seen it all.

“Nonsurgical issues, post-surgical, we see acute sprains, strains, everything from head to toe," he said.

He treats officers who are hurt on-duty, such as officer Fred Salvi, who was responding to a dog bite call in early December when he was injured.

“When I arrived at the house, the dog was waiting for me," Salvi said. "In an attempt to get back to my car, and not to get bitten by the dog, I fell and injured my shoulder.”

He tore two tendons in his shoulder, but did not need surgery. He has been seeing Jonte on a weekly basis, and has returned to full duty.

“Having a professional show you the correct movements, helps you work through it a lot faster," Salvi said.

Jonte also treats officers who are injured off-duty such as Sgt. Eric Lee, who injured his shoulder while doing jiujitsu.

“Eric came to me about six weeks ago, he strained one of his rotator cuff tendons," Jonte said. "When we first saw him, he had decreased range of motion, tightness through shoulder, limiting his mobility.

"So our goal is try to increase his mobility and strength to give him optimal mobility function movement so he could get back to not only his job, but what he likes to do, jiujitsu, weightlifting, things like that.”

Jonte said Denver is one of the only cities he knows of offering this type of care. He said it is very forward thinking of city leaders.

These officers have to be in top physical shape to do their jobs.

“When we talk about first responders, these are guys that put themselves in harm’s way, their bodies in harm’s way for us," Jonte said.

"It’s just good to give back to them to make sure they are strong and healthy and can do their jobs cause we need them.”

The director of the city’s health and wellness program said among the fire, sheriff and police departments, having in-house physical therapists has reduced workers compensation claims by $8 million over the past two years.

“We are decreasing time off from work or from injuries for work comp side of patients," Jonte said. "They are getting to work faster than if they went through private sector outsourced PT department.

"My approach to caring for them is giving them quality of time so that I can spend enough time with them to understand their dysfunction, or other dysfunctions they’ve acquired along the way and make sure they are moving right.”

He has unique understanding of what these officers go through each day.

“Even casually, not on a call, they still have to wear 20-30-pound belt and equipment gear everything like that for an eight- to 10-hour shift," Jonte said.

"We have to make sure they are stronger just to do that. I come from a background where by brother was an officer, so it means a lot to me. These guys do an incredible service for us, so it’s just a way to give back.”

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