WESLACO — Valley Baptist Health System, the operator of full-sized hospitals in Harlingen and Brownsville, is extending its reach by breaking ground Thursday on the first micro-hospital in the Rio Grande Valley.

The micro-hospital will house an emergency and trauma department and offer inpatient, outpatient, imaging, respiratory and ambulatory services inside a 28,000-square-foot facility off West Interstate 2 in Weslaco.

Valley Baptist plans to offer patients a “higher level of care, without having to go to an acute care hospital,” such as its facilities in Harlingen and Brownsville, according to Valley Baptist Health System CEO Manny Vela, who spoke at the ceremony along with local, county and state policymakers.

Valley Baptist owns clinics in the county, but the micro-hospital will be its largest healthcare facility in Hidalgo County. Valley Baptist representatives chose Weslaco after surveying patients’ zipcodes. They found Donna, Weslaco and surrounding area residents travel to its hospitals in Cameron County.

“We’re just trying to make it, so that the residents of this community, in the Mid-Valley, have easier access to Valley Baptist care,” Vela said, further noting that the healthcare system wants to “keep residents here close to their homes.”

“It’s more convenient for them, and I think family brings healing power,” he said, while construction crews worked nearby on micro-hospital grounds.

Policymakers present at Thursday’s ceremony expressed enthusiasm that residents would have another healthcare facility to choose from in Hidalgo County.

Prime Healthcare runs the Mid-Valley’s sole full-fledged hospital — Knapp Medical Center — established in 1962.

Still, some patients choose Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen, which in March launched the Rio Grande Valley’s only major trauma care center.

One of those former patients, state Rep. Armando Martinez, D-Weslaco, needed surgery at Valley Baptist Medical Center in Harlingen after sustaining a gunshot wound to his head from a stray bullet on New Year’s Day in 2017.

“You can see the growth in Weslaco, and the vision and he foresight of our mayor, the commissioners, our city manager and, of course, the public,” Martinez said. “Being a firefighter, a paramedic and flight medic for many years, we were able to recognize the need for health care and the impact that it has on our communities.”

In 2015, South Texas Health System opened a stand-alone emergency room in Weslaco, located less than a mile from the spot where Valley Baptist is building its micro-hospital.

Valley Baptist Micro-Hospital will serve “anybody with a full-fledged emergency of any kind,” Vela said.

It’s slated to open late next year at 1021 W. Interstate 2 in Weslaco, next to PlainsCapital Bank.