In the Shadow of the Capitol

Officer Chris Johnson of the Lincoln Police Department prepares to take an intoxicated man to The Bridge in December 2016.

Journal Star file photo

The city and county will likely be stepping in with financial help to make sure the nonprofit Bridge is able to operate its detoxification unit for the next year.

The Bridge, formerly Cornhusker Place, has been losing around $4,800 a month since January on Medicaid-eligible patients after state leaders determined the Bridge’s civil protective custody services don’t qualify for Medicaid reimbursement.

Lincoln Police Chief Jeff Bliemeister plans to use $50,000 of his budget to help offset the Medicaid losses for this fiscal year, and Lancaster County commissioners also agreed last week to step in with short-term funding.

Todd Wiltgen, County Board chairman, said he is hoping for a solution to the Medicaid issue and a continuation of Medicaid dollars from the state and federal government.

The Bridge is also expecting some help from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, whose students and fans are often Bridge clients on days of Husker games, according to Phil Tegeler, Bridge executive director. 

The Bridge has been operating its civil protective custody program for more than 30 years, providing up to 24 hours of detoxification care for people who are publicly intoxicated, arrested on drunk driving charges, or arrested on other misdemeanor charges and are drunk or high on drugs. 

If the civil protective custody program is reduced, because of funding problems, more people will end up in the county jail, which is funded with county tax dollars, commissioners were told during a meeting last week. 

* Many drunk drivers -- 200 arrested by sheriff's deputies and around 1,200 by city police annually -- would end up in jail. 

Taking the people arrested for driving under the influence to jail would cost the county around $140,000 a year, said Roma Amundson, county commissioner.

* Currently, police also take people who are so intoxicated they are a danger to themselves or others to the Bridge’s civil protective custody unit. If there were no Bridge services, police would likely charge many of them with a misdemeanor and house them in jail, police said.

Even now the Bridge's civil protective custody unit can’t always handle all the intoxicated people brought in by police on a Husker home game weekend.

Last Saturday night, the Bridge was at its 20-bed capacity for several hours, forcing police to try to find a relative willing to take the person in or wait for a detox bed to open up. 

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Police have come to rely on the Bridges' civil protective custody service. "It’s a resource we have relied on for 34 years. If we lose that civil protective custody component, that would be devastating," said Lancaster County Sheriff Terry Wagner during the County Board discussion.

"I don’t think the county jail is a proper place for someone who is highly intoxicated," Wiltgen said. 

The Bridge has depended on the Medicaid reimbursement for decades to help supplement city and state funding for this program. 

In January, state Medicaid staff determined the civil protective custody services have no Medicaid definition and are therefore not eligible for reimbursement. Medicaid would pay for a hospital stay or emergency room visit for these same people.

The Bridge and Medicaid staff are working to come up with a service definition to resolve the Medicaid roadblock, Tegeler said. 

The Medicaid definition issue is also linked to another $100,000 in funding that comes through Region V Systems to the Bridge, Tegeler noted.

That funding is expected to continue unless Bridge and Medicaid staff cannot find a solution, he said. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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