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.


Staff turnover also remains a challenge. Rees says The Buckeye Ranch tries to protect salaries and benefits; it hasn’t had to implement a pay cut or freeze. It offers more vacation time than most jobs, and it has some peer support groups.

“But to be honest with you, we’re still not doing a great job with that because we’re limited so much financially,” he says. “The turnover in our business is roughly 33 percent across the country, and last year, we finished the year at 32 percent.”

The average person has been on staff five and a half years, Rees says. It’s not only difficult to find social work majors, but once The Buckeye Ranch has them, they’re tough to keep because the work is so difficult.

To help with recruitment, when agencies close, the first thing The Buckeye Ranch does is find out if those employees want to come to work for it. But that means a number of employees are driving long distances across Ohio, and often people’s offices are their laptops.

To decrease turnover, the nonprofit is looking into how it can focus the trauma-informed care model it uses for its children to better support how trauma impacts its employees.

The Buckeye Ranch is also involved in some new programs that support teenagers and young adults, ages 17 to 21, who are transitioning into adulthood, typically from foster care. Rees says previously when children turned 18, they were on their own and often ended up homeless or facing other problems.

“Many of those kids are not prepared. I mean I wouldn’t have been prepared to (be on my own) when I was 18 and I grew up in a very good family with mom and dad there,” he says.

In addition, The Buckeye Ranch has dabbled with the idea of using telemedicine to more easily help children in remote areas. Rees says it hasn’t come to fruition yet, but it’s worth continuing to work on with so many people traveling across the state to get care for their child.

Whatever the future holds, The Buckeye Ranch will keep offering the best service it can to Ohio children and families.

“The one thing I like to try to impress upon folks is we’re not like your grandfather’s Buckeye Boys Ranch anymore,” he says. “We are 550 professionals, working with 5,000 kids and their families every year, and we’re using the latest technologies and the latest treatment services.”