The Chronic Illness Classes are a product of the Community Needs Assessment and Resolution program. In 2010/2011, WUSM medical students in collaboration with St. Louis University Master of Public Health students began a "Community Needs Assessment." They identified several zip codes within St. Louis' 21st ward as having some of the highest rates of mortality and morbidity from heart disease, diabetes and suicide in St. Louis (North St. Louis Health Care Access Study, 2008). Working with Alderman Antonio French, students set up three focus groups with 30 community members from the O'Fallon neighborhood for initial needs assessments.
The focus groups identified chronic illness as being a major concern within their community. Students and community members worked together to clarify contributing factors and to seek out solutions. After mutual research and discussion, community members voted to pursue development of a curriculum that would cover depression, asthma, and metabolic syndrome (diabetes, obesity, and hypertension). Furthermore, the community voted to have its own members trained and certified to teach this curriculum to the rest of the community.
For the "Resolution" step, students developed a chronic illness curriculum with faculty and community members. Students then trained and certified four teachers from the O'Fallon neighborhood with the curriculum. After successfully running a pilot series of courses, currently the next steps involve expanding the course to the rest of the O'Fallon neighborhood and potentially the entire 21st ward.
These Chronic Illness Classes are a result of student, faculty, and most of all, community input and resolution. They are a product of the PRECEDE-PROCEED way of thinking. Unlike many organizations and community projects that come and go, these classes can be a resource that can become sustainable even after those of who started it have stepped down to more minor roles.