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Meningitis outbreak leads N.H. firm to change name

The New Hampshire firm’s new logo

The New Hampshire firm’s new logo

What do you do when your company has a name alarmingly similar to one embroiled in scandal?

If you’re David Rochefort, you change it.

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Rochefort, a pharmacist who founded Northern New England Compounding Pharmacy in Littleton, N.H., in 2006, said the name is too close to New England Compounding Center, the Framingham firm blamed for the meningitis outbreak that has caused dozens of deaths.

In early October, after the government linked New England Compounding to the outbreak, nervous patients and doctors flooded Northern New England Compounding with phone calls and e-mails wondering if the two companies were connected. The New Hampshire pharmacy even got a frantic phone call from the daughter of a patient who was hospitalized in Tennessee just hours before the problems with the Massachusetts pharmacy became public. “Our phone lines blew up because the names are so close,” he said. “That has been my life ever since.”

Rochefort said he realized within 24 hours that his New Hampshire company had to change its name. Starting in January, the company plans to call itself Eastern States Compounding Pharmacy. It has already started advertising the new brand on its website.

So far, Rochefort said, existing patients have been willing to give the company the “benefit of a doubt.” But he worries prospective customers will Google the company’s name, come across stories about the Massachusetts pharmacy, and decide to go elsewhere.

So far, more than 500 people have become ill and 36 have died from fungal meningitis or other infections after they received potentially contaminated steroid injections made by New England Compounding, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Protection.

Other companies have taken similar routes as Northern New England Compounding after their brands became tarnished through no fault of their own. In 1990, for instance, Lincoln National Bank decided to change its name to California United Bank to end confusion with Lincoln Savings and Loan Association, a California institution embroiled in the savings and loan crisis of that period.

Rochefort said he did not realize there was a Massachusetts company with a similar name until six months after he founded the pharmacy. But by then, he figured, there was no need to switch. Rochefort noted that New England Compounding focused on selling to hospitals and clinics nationwide, while Rochefort mostly fills orders for individuals in the surrounding area. And he says he only received a misdirected call about once a year.

But in hindsight, he says, “I wish I had changed it a year ago.”

Todd Wallack can be reached at twallack@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @twallack.
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