Rhode Island doctor accused of ‘recklessly’ exposing patients, staff to COVID-19

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NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Rhode Island has suspended the license of a North Providence doctor after an investigation concluded he “recklessly” exposed his patients and staff to COVID-19.

The state’s Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline’s Investigative Committee determined that Dr. Anthony Farina, who owns at least six medical practices in Rhode Island, is “an immediate danger to the public.”

After reviewing the investigation, R.I. Department of Health Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott ordered Farina’s license be suspended. She concluded the evidence showed Farina’s “continuation in practice would constitute an immediate danger to the public and that the public health, safety and welfare imperatively requires emergency action,” according to the order.

The investigation into Farina, who graduated from the Brown University School of Medicine in 1991, began after a series of complaints were filed against him by former patients and staff members.

The complaints date back as far as 2018 and range from not forwarding former patient’s medical records to prescribing opioids to an immediate family member. But the four most recent complaints — which ultimately resulted in his suspension — revealed Farina became symptomatic with COVID-19 in November and continued to come to work.

“He had a cough, fever etc. He continued to remain in the clinic. He tested a few days later and was positive [for COVID-19]. He still continued to be in the clinic. He knowingly saw patients and infected the office,” one complainant claimed.

The complainant went on to accuse Farina of altering his personal medical record to reflect “that he was not symptomatic until days after the time that he actually was” and he “continued to see patients while knowingly sick. He passed the virus to employees.”

Another complainant alleged Farina did not always wear an N-95 mask while seeing patients.

“He passed the virus to employees,” the complainant said. “I think this was the wrong thing to do.”

The complainants also allege Farina “has temper tantrums” and “fires people on the spot.”

Farina, who testified in front of the Investigative Committee in January, chalked his initial symptoms up to a sinus infection and said he was treated at an urgent care clinic.

“He specifically stated that he was not coughing and did not have a fever and that he was, otherwise, well,” the Investigative Committee wrote.

Farina told the Investigative Committee that he was not offered a COVID-19 test based on his symptoms. Later, it was learned from witnesses “who have direct knowledge of the facts relevant to this matter” that the urgent care recommended he be tested for the virus, but he declined.

Farina said after he recovered from the sinus infection, he began experiencing new symptoms and ultimately tested positive for COVID in early December, according to the health complaint. From then on, he said “he isolated appropriately and wore an N-95 mask when in the office.”

One witness told the Investigative Committee while Farina did wear an N-95 mask, his nose was exposed. The witness also claimed Farina met with staff while he was supposed to be isolating and created “a hostile work environment.”

The investigation concluded that the witnesses were credible, and Farina was not.

The board said Farina’s actions were in direct violation of state law regarding unprofessional conduct, and he acted recklessly when he refused to get tested for COVID-19.

In a statement, Farina denied the allegations in the Investigative Committee’s order.

“As a doctor, my first responsibility is to do no harm, and I take that oath extremely seriously,” he said. “I want to reassure all of my patients that I would never place them in harm.

Farina said he plans to appeal his suspension, adding that he’s confident he will “be thoroughly cleared of these false and misleading allegations.”

This is not the first time Farina’s been deemed non-compliant with the state’s COVID-19 mandates. The Rhode Island Department of Business Regulation ordered Farina to temporarily close his North Providence practice last July after it failed an inspection.

At the time, Farina called the non-compliance order issued against his business, “unnecessary and harsh” and said the violations issued were “simply inaccurate.”

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