A group of about 20 persons demonstrated in front of the emergency entrance of Capitol Hill Hospital yesterday afternoon to protest what they view as the hospital's callous attitude toward poor patients.

"This hospital has ceased to be a hospital," said Jack Thornton, one of the leaders of the protest. "We've been expecting some type of catastrophe like occurred here the other day," he said.

Thornton was referring to the death of Howard B. Smith, 28, who died of massive internal injuries 55 minutes after being discharged-under police escort-from Capitol Hill's emergency room March 3, where he had been diagnosed as suffering from only three rib fractures.

The city's hospital licensing authority Friday downgraded the license of Capitol Hill's emergency room to provisional status, and said inspectors will visit the facility periodically for the next 90 days. If it is determined the care afforded Smith, whom hospital officials say had full health insurance, was part of a pattern, the hospital could be ordered to shut down its emergency room.

Phyllis Martin, a demonstrator and member of the 30 person health coordinating council - which oversees health planning ahd hospital expansion and building in the city-said, "I was one of the members who [was] against giving Capitol Hill its certificate of need [in February for an ongoing renovation program]. It's a shame that a man had to die to make a change."

The demonstrators were also protesting the fact that Capitol Hill transfer more poor patients to D.C. General Hospital than any private hospital in the city.

Clarence Osborne, director of fiscal affairs for the hospital, said, "We're satisfied we're rendering medical care that people need . . . If the people want a hospital in the community to serve the people in the community, you can only give so much free care and remain solvent."

Osborne, who says the hospital lost $712,000 between July of last year and this February, said Capitol Hill admits two uninsured patients for every one it transfers to D.C. General.