WINNIPEG -- A Winnipeg woman living in long term care is speaking out about the need to protect residents.

It’s a message that comes amid a surge in COVID-19 outbreaks at personal care homes in the Winnipeg region.

Some of those outbreaks have been deadly and Manitobans are being urged by Shoshana Forester Smith to look at the homes and the people who live in them through a different lens.

The 37-year-old is immunocompromised, has chronic illnesses and lives in long term care.

“We are not disposable,” Forester Smith said in a Zoom interview from her room. “Just because we’re in long term care doesn’t mean that we’re just taking up space here waiting to die.”

Seeing how outbreaks of COVID-19 are affecting and killing people in personal care homes prompted her to speak out.

Forester Smith has her own room and lives in a place with no outbreak. She said she is happy with her care but feels more inspections could help people in other homes.

“Living under the constant threat of having COVID enter the facility is extremely stressful,” she said. “I don’t want to get COVID. I don’t want to know what’s going to happen to me if I get COVID.”

Forester Smith stressed it’s not only seniors who live in care homes and added people who do can pay hefty monthly fees. She said residents shouldn’t be viewed by the rest of society as collateral damage during the pandemic.

“We’re here to have a quality of life. We’re here to live. We’re here to enjoy time with our friends and our family,” said Forester Smith. “They should be doing everything they can to protect us and deaths are avoidable.”

Michelle Porter, director of the Centre On Aging at the University of Manitoba, said protecting people during the pandemic means preventing community transmission to keep the disease out of high-risk settings and limiting transmission when it does it get in.

“It seems like many of things have not been happening community-wide,” said Porter. “We just see things dramatically spiraling out of control.”

Porter said care homes are often set up to provide essentials of life but not always quality of life, in places that become people’s homes.

“People can live in these environments for years and so certainly even before the pandemic we needed to be doing more to make sure that people were able to live the best life possible for their current circumstances,” said Porter.

With visitations restricted, making and mailing out creative crafts and surprise gifts has helped to keep Forester Smith connected with family and friends.

“That makes me feel better and it makes me feel connected to my friends and family, who I can’t see, and it makes them feel good, too,” she said.

But it hasn’t completely replaced what she’s missing. Forester Smith said she hasn’t hugged her husband since March.

A precaution and sacrifice, they and many others are making to contain further spread of the virus.