NORTH PROVIDENCE, R.I. — A local doctor had his medical license suspended indefinitely for deliberately exposing his patients and staff members to the coronavirus.
Dr. Anthony Farina Jr., an internal medicine specialist with six medical practices in Johnston, East Greenwich, and North Providence, is accused of working while sick with COVID-19, infecting his office, and other misconduct that the state Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline said made him “an immediate danger to the public.”
State Health Department Director Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott ordered the emergency suspension Farina’s license on Thursday. Farina is ordered to report to the Rhode Island Medical Society Physicians Health Program for evaluation.
Farina was not at his office and could not be reached for comment Friday, but issued a statement through his lawyer.
“I strongly deny the false allegations made by the Rhode Island Department of Health 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,” the statement read. “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.”
Farina graduated from Brown University School of Medicine in 1991 and was licensed by the state in 1993. He is listed as the director or president of Center of Physicians Weight Loss & Medical Services, at 1963 Central Ave. in Johnston, and New England Primary Care, Inc., Center of New England Urgent Care, Inc., North Providence Primary Care Associates, Inc., North Providence Urgent Care, Inc., East Greenwich Urgent Care, Inc., all listed at 1830 Mineral Spring Avenue in North Providence.
In 2018, Farina had made local news for commissioning a mural of North Providence Mayor Charles A. Lombardi wearing a crown and sitting on a toilet — a king on a porcelain throne — painted on Farina’s former medical office building that the city called “a health hazard.” The building, and its mural, were later demolished.
Around that time, the Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline received the first of 13 complaints of misconduct against Farina, according to its report released Friday.
Multiple people complained that Farina wasn’t forwarding their medical records to their new doctors. A new nurse quit after being subject to Farina’s rages and his failure to train her. The board got reports of billing errors, radiation control found multiple violations, and he was caught writing prescriptions for opioids to a relative, according to the board’s investigation.
Then came the COVID-19 pandemic.
After getting complaints that Farina and staff weren’t wearing masks or enforcing social distancing, a health inspector went to investigate in July. The visit was cut short “because the office manager and [Farina] were angry, uncooperative, and threatening,” according to the board’s report.
Farina was found in violation of the state’s Safe Activities Regulations, which requires plans for safe operations of establishments during the pandemic emergency, the report said.
Then in December, the board got four anonymous complaints within days, after Farina had tested positive for COVID-19. The board’s investigation found Farina had actually gotten sick in mid-November, but continued working and not wearing a mask or not wearing one properly, until he was finally tested for the coronavirus nine days later.
By then, his family and some of the staff members were also sick, the board’s investigation found. People also complained that Farina was volatile and angry, and would throw things at the staff.
One complainant testified that Farina “continued to see patients while knowingly sick. He passed the virus to employees.... Dr. Farina is frightening. He has temper tantrums and rage attacks daily and yells at the top of his lungs. He fires people on the spot. There’s something wrong with him.”
Farina testified that he had a sinus infection in November, which the board did not believe.
Exposing staff members and patients to the coronavirus while infected posed “an immediate danger to the public,” the board said in its report.
Taken all those complaints together, however, and Farina’s pattern of behavior was even more alarming, the board said in a report released Friday: “Indeed, the investigative committee members noted that [Farina’s] overall pattern of misconduct is unprecedented in the history of the board.”
On Friday, Mayor Lombardi said the suspension of Farina’s license is “a good thing for the town and the people’s welfare.”
“This doesn’t surprise me,” Lombardi said. “He’s a health hazard himself.”
The mayor won the now-legendary battle with Farina over the dilapidated former medical office building on Mineral Spring Avenue. The building was uninhabitable, the roof had caved in, and it attracted rodents.
“He didn’t care about his patients’ health when they were walking by and parking on the side of that rodent-infested building then,” Lombardi said, “and apparently he doesn’t care about their health now.”
Globe staff reporter Edward Fitzpatrick contributed to this report.