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RI HEALTH

OSHA cites Rhode Island medical practice for exposing employees to COVID-19

Dr. Anthony G. Farina, who owns four medical offices in Rhode Island, faces a $136,532 fine

A sign for North Providence Urgent Care and North Providence Primary Care, two of the six medical facilities for which Dr. Anthony Farina is the president or director.
A sign for North Providence Urgent Care and North Providence Primary Care, two of the six medical facilities for which Dr. Anthony Farina is the president or director.Amanda Milkovits/Amanda Milkovits, Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — The owner of four medical offices in Rhode Island faces a proposed $136,532 fine for willfully exposing workers to COVID-19 and working while sick with the virus last fall.

The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited Dr. Anthony G. Farina, the owner of North Providence Urgent Care Inc., North Providence Primary Care Associates Inc., Center of New England Urgent Care Inc. and Center of New England Primary Care Inc.

OSHA investigators found that Farina failed to protect workers and implement proper safety measures after six employees tested positive for the coronavirus last fall. The agency said that investigators found that Farina continued to interact with workers and did not fully implement safeguards after he exhibited symptoms and later tested positive for COVID-19.

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“This employer placed workers and others at risk of contracting the coronavirus. Employers have a responsibility to isolate workers and themselves if they show symptoms of the virus,” OSHA Area Director Robert Sestito said in a statement Tuesday. “Protecting employees and patients by implementing timely and effective safeguards and controls to minimize exposure is critical to mitigating the spread of the virus.”

A lawyer for Farina said Tuesday afternoon that the doctor “vehemently denies” OSHA’s conclusions and will challenge the agency’s findings.

“The citation and the proposed penalties are completely unfounded and utterly lacking on the facts and the applicable law. The proposed penalty of $136,532.00 is legally excessive and shocks the conscience of any reasonable person,” lawyer Michael Lepizzera Jr. said in an emailed statement. “Dr. Farina is an excellent physician who has well served this community for close to three decades. He did not and would never jeopardize either the safety of the patients who he has meticulously cared for during his long standing time as a doctor nor would he place his employees in harm’s way.”

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Farina has 15 business days to comply, request an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the findings before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

These were the same complaints led to the Rhode Island Department of Health ordering Farina’s license suspended indefinitely in January. The state Board of Medical Licensure and Discipline had found that Farina’s actions made him “an immediate danger to the public” and that the doctor’s “overall pattern of misconduct is unprecedented in the history of the board.”

His license was reinstated in February.

The state had also briefly closed his office at 1830 Mineral Spring Ave. last July after finding staff weren’t following basic COVID-19 protocols.

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.

Aside from COVID-19, Farina is also known locally for commissioning a mural in 2018 for his former medical office that featured a caricature of North Providence Mayor Charles A. Lombardi wearing a crown and sitting on a toilet. Farina was reacting to the city deeming the office building to be “a health hazard.” The building, and its mural, were eventually torn down.

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Amanda Milkovits can be reached at amanda.milkovits@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.