LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Lincoln will be able to maintain a program that serves as an alternative to jail for people arrested while extremely intoxicated.

The state Department of Health and Human Services has agreed to license the civil protective custody program run by The Bridge Behavioral Health nonprofit, The Lincoln Journal Star reported .

The unit would've closed if the state had denied its license because medical staff would likely refuse to work at an unlicensed facility, said The Bridge director Tammy Stevenson.

Police bring more than 3,600 people to the program annually to be detoxed. Clients include people arrested for drunken driving, trespassing or urinating in public.

The Bridge officials have agreed to moderate the program's discharge policy to meet licensing regulations. The program currently holds clients in locked rooms for 24 hours or until their blood alcohol content is zero, which state licensure officials viewed as overly restrictive and unnecessary.

Staff members will now begin to release people when their BAC level drops to less than 0.08 percent, which is the state's legal limit for driving.

Staff will use a discharge assessment list to evaluate clients for potential early discharge, Stevenson said.

Discharging clients earlier can be an issue because people with chronic alcohol problems can sometimes experience worse withdrawal systems as their BAC nears zero, Stevenson said. But clients will be encouraged to stay voluntarily at the program's social detox unit, she said.

The program is a good alternative to transporting people to jail or a hospital, said Todd Wiltgen, the Lancaster County Board chairman.

"This is very welcome news," he said. "We appreciate HHS's work on renewing the license and are very relieved."

___

Information from: Lincoln Journal Star, http://www.journalstar.com