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November 14, 2012

Patient advocacy comes to Oneonta

By Richard Whitby
The Daily Star

---- — A longtime physician assistant has entered the growing field of patient advocacy in Oneonta.

Mark VanLaeys has spent 30 years in health care, mostly in Oneonta, before beginning his practice Nov. 1.

“A patient advocate is somebody who works in partnership with a patient, in my case in conjunction with the health care provider to get the best available care for the patient’s most pressing needs,” VanLaeys said.

VanLaeys said he does not work for insurers.

“I’m an independent patient advocate, meaning my only allegiance is to the patient,” he said.

“I don’t make decisions based on what insurance companies tell me to do,” he added.

Indeed, insurers won’t pay for VanLaeys’ service, but he said he can help some patients recoup their out-of-pocket cost by saving them money on their prescriptions.

“I hope to offset expenses the patients incur while working under me by things like having them be able to decrease their medications, having them also … switch them to medications which can be considerably less expensive and yet equally effective,” he said, emphasizing that any such decisions would be made in consultation with a patient’s physician.

“Doctors are sometimes not very concerned about how much out-of-pocket expenses patients have, and I’m very concerned about out-of-pocket expenses,” he said.

He said he also can help patients deal with insurers.

“I have worked with insurance companies, and I will, as I’m tying to seek better care for a patient in terms of coverage,” he said. “I will be able to pull more strings than the average person. I will know what I’m talking about as I work my way up through the telephone workers.”

VanLaeys doesn’t diagnose or treat, but he said he can help patients sort through treatment options and make the best decisions.

He also provides health coaching to patients.

“If they’re struggling with lifestyle issues, I want to work with them on … the biggest hurdles to them doing what they know they should be doing,” he said.

“A well-motivated patient, with guidance, can do great things in improving their health,” he said.

VanLaeys has set up a website,, and can be reached at (607) 437-2015.

Deli for sale

The Center Street Deli, an institution in Oneonta for 25 years, is up for sale.

Frank Comtanie, who owns and runs the deli with his wife, Robin, said Monday that it’s time for the couple to retire.

“I’m 66,” he said.

The couple plans to stay in Oneonta.

Frank Comtanie said he hopes to find someone who can keep the business going.

Bike shop opens in Oneonta

A new bicycle shop, Otsego Bicycles, has opened in Oneonta with limited hours, but its owner plans a grand opening for Dec. 1 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The shop occupies the same space as the former Sport Tech bike shop at 74 Water St. It’s owned and operated by Ed Lorenz and features Specialized bicycles and accessories but will service all bicycle brands. It sells children’s bikes and offers ski and snowboard tuning during the winter months.

Lorenz was one of the owners of Sport Tech. The shop’s website is, and its phone number is (607) 432-1731. It also has a Facebook page.