A Rhode Island internist had his license suspended for exposing patients to COVID-19, according to the Providence Journal.
Anthony Farina Jr., MD, allegedly continued to work after he tested positive for the disease, and wore a mask that exposed his nose, according to witness testimony to the state medical board.
Farina “continued to see patients while knowingly sick. He passed the virus to employees. I think this was the wrong thing to do,” one unidentified staff member had complained.
According to the board’s order, Farina told the committee that he only had a sinus infection, and no symptoms other than nasal discharge that went away after he took antibiotics. He said he didn’t contract COVID-19 until weeks later, and appropriately isolated and wore an N95 mask at that time.
The board, however, doubted that account, according to the Providence Journal. Witness testimony during a board investigation indicated he became symptomatic in late November, and continued to work even after testing positive a few days later. He saw patients while wearing an N95 mask but with his nose exposed, according to testimony.
A staff member also said Farina altered his medical records to make it look like he was asymptomatic despite actually showing symptoms for several days.
Rhode Island Department of Health Director Nicole Alexander-Smith, MD, MPH, ordered an emergency suspension of Farina’s license on Jan. 14, which will stand until further order of the health department or the medical board.
The state has not yet posted details of the disciplinary action, but the Journal reported that the complaint alleged other violations, including failure to forward medical records after patients left the practice, neglecting to refer a patient to a needed specialist, prescribing opioids to a family member, and charging an insurer for treatment that did not happen.
Also, during an inspection at one of Farina’s six practices in July, the health department documented a staff member without a face covering and three others wearing them improperly. The office also failed to post COVID-19 safety protocols and take precautions such as screening patients before entering the facility and ensuring enough room to social distance in the waiting room at the time.
A request for comment from the Rhode Island health department was not returned as of press time.
According to the Providence Journal, Farina denied the allegations and said he will appeal the order. In a statement released by his lawyer, Farina said he “strongly den[ies] the false allegations made by the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) that I at any time threatened the health of my patients. As a doctor, my first responsibility is to do no harm, and I take that oath extremely seriously.”
“I want to reassure all of my patients that I would never place them in harm. I am appealing RIDOH’s suspension of my license and am confident I will be thoroughly cleared of these false and misleading allegations,” he said in the statement.
Farina, a 1991 graduate of Brown University School of Medicine, is no stranger to controversy. In 2018, he commissioned a mural of North Providence Mayor Charles Lombardi wearing a crown and holding a cellphone while sitting on a toilet, in protest of the city’s request that he demolish one of his former office buildings that had fallen into disrepair.