When The Buckeye Ranch named Nicholas Rees as its president and CEO, a few people in Central Ohio’s behavioral healthcare community expressed some surprise. The Grove City, Ohio-based organization provides a mix of inpatient and outpatient mental health and substance abuse services for children, and Rees would be only the third CEO in the Ranch's 50-year history. Unlike his predecessors, he had no clinical experience; in fact, his background was primarily in accounting and advertising.
“There was some worry about having this advertising guy [who] was going to be taking care of all of these kids,” Rees says. "But the plan was that as soon as they named me CEO, they would find somebody to serve as a chief clinical officer.”
As part of the transition, Rees' former position as vice president of development has been eliminated so that Rees himself can continue to act as the Ranch's "chief fundraiser." Stephen Richard, another Ranch veteran, has assumed the position of executive vice president of programs and services to oversee the clinical services and behavioral health programs.
Rees takes the helm at a point when behavioral healthcare providers face significant economic challenges. His primary focus this year will be on finding ways to reduce costs, improve reimbursements, and drum up additional funds from the Ranch’s donors.
"There's a delicate balance between mission and margin,” Rees says. “We're engaging the board of directors more on this and recruiting members based on their knowledge set. We want to serve a lot of kids, but if we continue to do that at a loss we won't be here in the future to serve them."
Retail background provides unique skills
In Central Ohio, the Buckeye Ranch is best known for its residential facility in Grove City, an open campus that includes a 51-bed intensive care center. But the majority of the cases the Ranch serves still live at home and utilize one of the organization's several other locations for care. Those include foster care offices (through the Square One for Youth program) in Newark, Dayton, and Cincinnati; the Cross Creek Day Treatment Center; and facilities at the Ohio School for the Deaf.
While Rees is no clinician, his background makes him uniquely qualified to help steer the Ranch through these trying fiscal times. Rees, a graduate of Ohio Dominican University in economics and business administration, worked for 24 years with The Kroger Company, a national grocery chain, where he held positions in accounting, human resources, staff management, advertising, real estate, public relations, and community relations. It was in that last capacity that he first became aware of the Ranch, serving as the liaison with Kroger when the organization approached local businesses for donations.
When the Ranch was searching for a development director in 2003, a friend suggested he interview for the position. "Once I got a chance to see what was happening here for the kids and their families, I couldn’t say no," Rees says.
Rees is putting his retail background to use in improving the timeliness and effectiveness of service and generally improving the Ranch’s customer service operations.
"Things like making sure there are parking lots close to the front door of the facilities, improving responsiveness for the provider network, and redefining and refining our guiding principles," Rees says.
"We've transitioned to more community-based care over the last five years, and the wait time for some families can be as much as 90 days," he continues. "We are working to provide more timely services to those families waiting to get their children into some kind of care."
Rees says the Ranch also plans to expand its services to cover some adjacent counties.
Two of Rees' top priorities as the Ranch approaches its 50th anniversary will be working with his legislative contacts on possible regulatory changes that impact services and reimbursement, and seeking out new sources of funding as well as cost savings.
Since most of the children in the Buckeye Ranch system are Medicaid eligible, the Ranch is reimbursed by both the county and the state. They also raise private funds through a number of events each year.
Rees hopes to tap donors to help fill some gaps in funding that have emerged as the client population has changed. For instance, since interpretation services are not reimbursed by Medicaid, Rees would like to create a pool of money to pay for interpreters for the area's growing Spanish-speaking population.
"We are always looking for ways to reduce our costs, but most of the big stuff was taken care of over the last nine years," Rees says. "The kids that need our help don't know what's going on with the economy. They just know they have a serious problem and they need help. My job is to make sure the staff doesn't have to think about the dollars and cents. They just have to think about what's best for the kids."
Behavioral Healthcare 2010 March;30(3):20-22