The Buckeye Ranch continues to thrive in a tough environment


When D. Nicholas Rees, president and CEO of The Buckeye Ranch, goes fundraising, he often brings the metro section of the newspaper. He shows people the articles that could be one of their children, will be one of their children or who could have been one of their children.

“We meet a lot of parents who are starting to lose hope that their child is going to be successful. We meet a lot of children who really don’t understand completely why they’re in this situation. And we’re left with trying to put everything back together and getting everybody moved in a positive direction,” Rees says.

The behavioral health field is already difficult work that’s only getting harder as funding remains tight and agencies close around the state.

The Buckeye Ranch, which helps boys and girls, toddlers to age 21, served 4,574 children during fiscal year 2017 — a 6 percent increase from the year prior. With seven locations and about $45 million in annual revenue, Rees says the good news is The Buckeye Ranch employs more than 500 people who passionately want to help.

“We have a great track record of helping these children realize that what’s happened to them is not always their fault, and also does not have to define their future,” he says.

A growing demand

The Buckeye Ranch’s geographic footprint is about half the state, encompassing Central and Southwestern Ohio. Rees says other behavioral health agencies are closing because it’s tough to make ends meet. Donors also don’t easily understand their work, so they don’t get the donations that a children’s hospital or cancer center might.

“When these agencies around the state have started closing up, the children and their families are still there, so we’re trying to expand to meet those needs,” he says.

The Buckeye Ranch’s residential treatment center in Grove City, for example, serves a number of children from the Cincinnati area because the region only has a small center that does residential treatment and it’s not capable of handling all the needs.

The bulk of the nonprofit’s funding comes from the state and Medicaid. Unfortunately, Medicaid rates were set 20 years ago — the cost of doing the work has steadily increased while the revenue remains the same.

“And then on top of that, the number of children and families who are coming to us for care makes it difficult for us to serve as many as we’d like to be able to serve,” Rees says.

There’s two pieces to that: The Buckeye Ranch has trouble finding staff and the need is so great.

For example, the nonprofit operates a relatively large foster care network of about 215 families around the state. With the opioid epidemic in Ohio, more adults are unable to parent their children. These children are being pushed into the system, and The Buckeye Ranch Foster Care program is seeing a lot more referrals than even just five years ago.