Judy Spiegel, the wife of former Erlanger CEO Kevin Spiegel, is one of 159 people still missing after an oceanfront condominium building in the Miami suburbs partially collapsed early Thursday morning.
As of Friday afternoon, 11 injuries had been reported and at least four people were confirmed dead.
Judy Spiegel's daughter, Rachel Spiegel, lives in South Miami and said that the 12-story Champlain Towers South complex in Surfside, Florida, had been her parents' second home since January 2017, when Rachel's daughter Scarlett was born. At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Judy Spiegel moved into the oceanview, sixth-floor residence full time to help care for her three grandchildren, Rachel Spiegel said.
"People that know my mom in Chattanooga know how much she loved her family. I don't think there's anybody that knows her that doesn't know all about me and my brother. That's all she talked about," Rachel Spiegel said. "She helped me so much during COVID. When there was no school, she was the teacher, and when I was working and I needed someone to pick up, she was always the first in the carpool line. She did grandmotherhood with grace and pride, and there's no one in the world like her.
"What I really want the Chattanooga community to know is that my mom really loves all of us, and all of us spoke to her the night before this happened. All of us texted her goodnight. All of us said I love you. She knew she was loved," she said.
Rachel Spiegel said she learned about the building collapse from her father, Kevin Spiegel, who came to Chattanooga in April 2013 to take on the role of CEO at Erlanger Health System after serving as CEO at Methodist Healthcare in Memphis for five years prior.
During his six-and-a-half-year tenure, he led the public hospital system out of financial turmoil, grew net patient revenue by 92% and dramatically increased Erlanger's market share. Those achievements, combined with new philanthropic initiatives, allowed Erlanger to take on major capital projects, including Erlanger East Hospital, a $100 million electronic health record system and a new children's outpatient center. In the process, Erlanger became the nation's 10th largest public hospital system, the largest employer in Chattanooga and the fastest-growing health care organization in Tennessee.
During their time in Chattanooga, the Spiegels lived in the Riverview neighborhood of North Chattanooga.
Rachel Spiegel said her dad called her in the early morning hours after receiving an email from the managers of the complex. Rachel Spiegel said she arrived on the scene at 5:30 a.m. Thursday and stayed watching rescue crews work until 11 p.m. that night and returned Friday morning at 9 a.m.
"It was different today," she said, explaining that Friday's cleanup scene was worse in that the air was filled with heavy smoke that made it hard to breathe. "There's fires, there's debris, there is a fog in the air. It felt more like 9/11 today. It was horrible. And I wasn't physically at 9/11, but I lived on Long Island, and I remember it. It's permeating through the air. It's consuming."
Kevin Spiegel is "heartbroken" and currently staying in a hotel nearby, his daughter said.
"We're still holding on to hope, but we're scared," she said. "[My dad] lost all his belongings, all of his clothes, their wedding album, all of our keepsakes, and all of our heirlooms are in that apartment. ... all of that is material, but it's great memories, and all I care about really is my mom and I just want to find my mom."
Rachel Spiegel said her mother loved Chattanooga and Erlanger. Judy Spiegel, an art enthusiast, helped launch the Arts at Erlanger program, which brought an array of visual and performing arts into the hospital, including a refresh of the hospital's chapel done by local artists. The work was awarded "Ten Best Mosaics" by the Society of American Mosaic Artists in 2016.
"There's a lot of love for her. She was really passionate about making a mark and making sure that she supported my dad through anything and everything," Rachel Spiegel said.
She said after speaking to her 65-year-old mother on the phone the night before the collapse that they were texting about a Disney dress that Rachel's daughter Scarlett mentioned she wanted when they were together as a family on Father's Day.
"There was a Belle dress with sequined roses. And [my mom] was like, 'Oh my god, I found the dress and I bought it for her, and it's in the mail.' She was so excited, because they were sold out of it when we looked last," Rachel Spiegel said. "What's heartbreaking to me is that dress is in the mail, because that's who my mom was — always buying things for the kids, always listening to what they said, and going above and beyond searching to make them happy — and I just hope and pray that my mom can give her that dress."
Contact Elizabeth Fite at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @ecfite.