Founding board member named 3rd director of AIDS Task Force

The new executive director of the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force has returned to his roots 10 years after serving on the board of directors in the early days of the organization.

“That was back when there were no paid staff positions and the board members were staff,” recalled David M. Stabile, who assumed duties as executive director April 14. “The disease was new, and the task force was starting to organize our client service responses which, at that time, focused primarily on the fear and concern in the gay community.”

After two years, Stabile retired from the board when the task force was able to hire its first executive director, Kerry Stoner. Ironically, Stabile was part of the search committee that hired Stoner.

Replacing Michael Neal, who left the Task Force last fall for a regional vice president position with the American Cancer Society, Stabile is now the third executive director at PATF and said he feels privileged to have the opportunity.

“Both Kerry [Stoner] and Michael [Neal] placed their marks on the Task Force with their own signature styles and personalities,” Stabile told Out. “I hope to do the same.”

Stabile described Stoner, who died of AIDS in 1993, as a dynamic, outgoing personality who, as founder of the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force, knew how to get the public’s attention. Stabile credited Neal with securing a firm foundation for a maturing agency.

“Thanks to Michael, we are fiscally sound, our programs are solid and our reputation throughout the state is unwavering among AIDS service organizations,” Stabile said.

Born and raised in Greensburg, the 44-year-old Stabile has lived in Pittsburgh since 1978. He earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Pittsburgh in 1980 and also has a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania.

He was previously associate director of addiction services at St. Francis Medical Center, where he managed several hospital-related programs and services at multiple locations. During the past few years, Stabile has focused his work on health care systems re-engineering and quality improvement, emphasizing the changing demands on health care delivery due to the impact of managed care and other emerging issues.

That job, he said, prepared him well to step into the role as executive director of the Task Force.

“I bring a lot of experience working in health care settings where the impact of managed care has already been felt,” Stabile said. “In HIV and AIDS service delivery, we’re faced with similar times. Treatment advances have refocused us more on living, which presents new issues. We must revisit how our services are organized and question how well we are responding to the current needs of the disease as the disease exists today.

“In 1986 and ’87, AIDS was a new disease. Now it feels new all over again because of all that has transpired in those 10 years.”

The new focus, according to Stabile, will be on accessibility, cost-effectiveness and quality of services.

“We must remember that, at the Task Force, our primary reason to be is to provide care and support to those with HIV and AIDS,” he said. “We must continue to heighten awareness, as we have done in the past, that AIDS is not just something between men who have sex with men. Those most at risk and those seroconverting are people who inject drugs, as well as adolescents and women, with particular emphasis on minorities.

“Since 1980, this has been my professional career, managing programs for these groups of higher-risk clients,” Stabile continued. “This has been the past 20 years of my life. So I feel I bring a sensitivity to the populations we need to be focusing on those most at risk of becoming infected.”

Stabile said the Task Force gives him an opportunity to integrate his background, skills and experience with issues that are important in his personal life.

“This position affords me the opportunity to integrate that which I know, that which I’ve done and that which I feel is important,” Stabile said. “I bring my own commitment and values to working in an area that feels right to me.”

Stabile said his vision for the Task Force for the next five years includes continued study of how AIDS evolves as advances in treatment are made.

“The disease has changed so dramatically in the brief period of the past 12 months,” he said. “Unfortunately what the media has heard is ‘the end of AIDS,’ and that is so far from reality. We are making advances, but we don’t know the long-term effectiveness of the advances. While we are hopeful, the best way to deal with HIV is to prevent infection up front.”

Prevention is still the biggest challenge, according to Stabile, who will provide leadership in revamping prevention education services at the PATF. The process will include a national search for models of prevention that have been effective with higher- risk groups.

Stabile feels strongly that to be successful, a prevention program must determine- -from the perspective of those at risk–what will help people change their behavior to reduce their risk of infection.

“We must provide the most relevant prevention and awareness programs to the community to educate people of the risks and provide them with skills that help them make decisions that will lower their risk of contracting the disease,” Stabile said.

To do so, he said, the Task Force will move to what is called a “harm-reduction model,” which provides information about an individual’s range of risks while offering a range of risk-reduction behaviors.

“The message is that people can and should adopt these behaviors, but the approach affords individuals the opportunity to make decisions based on what’s best for them.” Stabile explained. “It’s informed decision-making, not value laden.”

The PATF will also seek partnerships with other social service organizations to more effectively integrate AIDS prevention and service delivery into programs that share common at-risk clientele.

Frank Leavens, director of development for the Task Force, believes Stabile’s background in social work and addiction programs will serve him well in the AIDS arena, where HIV disease and substance abuse are becoming increasingly linked.

“Over the years, Dave has also developed, across the state, a vast professional network that he’s going to have to call on as he guides this agency through the changes that we’re all experiencing with HIV and AIDS,” Leavens said.

“As an individual, Dave has boundless enthusiasm that is energizing for both staff and volunteers. Speaking for myself, I feel I will be challenged professionally under his leadership, and I find that an exciting prospect,” Leavens added.

The public is invited to meet new Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force Executive Director David Stabile at an informal question-and-answer session June 25, 6:30-7:30pm, at the new PATF offices in Wilkinsburg. Call 242-2500 for more information.

This article originally appeared in Pittsburgh’s Out. This article is preserved as a part of the Q Archives project. Please consider donating to help preserve Pittsburgh’s Queer history.