The union that represents interns and residents at D.C. General Hospital has charged that some of the emergency lifesaving equipment at the city's only public hospital does not work and that some units at the hospital are so badly understaffed that patients are not receiving optimum care.

According to Dr. Don Thomas, a member of the union's executive committee, "there are places where the EKG machines [which measure heart function] don't work; there are defibrillators, [used to shock a heart back into its natural rhythm] that don't hold a charge.

In addition. Thomas charged, "we have run Codes [emergency alerts for heart attack victims] and found medication and equipment missing from the crash carts," which carry supplies for such treatment.

Thomas' charges were the first public indication of the issues the hospital administration will face in its first contract negotations with the D.C. General Housestaff Association, which was officially recognized as a bargaining unit in December. The specific charges were made in explanation of patient car demands included in the Housestaff Association's contract proposal, submitted to the hospital Feb. 14.

Robert Johnson, D.C. General's executive director, said he is "not aware" of any equipment malfunctions. Thomas did not give any specific examples of patients who experienced medical difficulties as a result of alleged equipment problems.

In a letter delivered yesterday to Gilbert Hahn, chairman of the hospital's governing board, Housestaff Association President Dr. Robert Vowles accused the hospital of footdragging in starting negotiations and threatened to enlist the help of the Joint Commission on the Accreditation of Hospitals (JCAH) in achieving the union's patient care demands. The Association is the bargaining unit for all 193 interns and residents who work at D.C. General.

Inspectors from the JCAH are due at the hospital later this month. The hospital lost its accreditation in 1975, are regained it last year on a one-year, provisional basis. The inspectors will now have to decide whether to grant the hospital a full two-year accreditaion.

According to Hahn, who chairs the D.C. General Hospital Commission, "there isn't a lot of room for negotation on these

patient care issues."

The demands, he said "come down to a question of who is going to run the hospital."

Hahn's response, and some of the union's demands regarding staffing patterns in the hospitals, are similar to the issues that divided the administration at the Washington Hospital Center and its nurses' union during the month-long strike there last summer.

In a separate letter delivered yesterday to D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, the Housestaff Association contended that the hospital is violating the D.C. Labor Relations Act by not bargaining in good faith.

The union has charged that hospital officials twice promised, and twice failed, to set a date for the start of negotiations.

During a meeting Friday with about 30 association members, hospital director Johnson said the hospital commission must approve of the hospital's negotiating team and take a position on the issues before negotiations can begin.

Hann, however, said yesterday that the commission has already given the hospital the go-ahead on establishing a bargaining committee, and said that only a subcommittee of the commission need approve the negotiating positions.