Financially troubled Capitol Hill Hospital has experienced such an increased in patients in the past month that officials there have put off talks of merging with Greater Southeast Community Hospital.

A merger has not been ruled out entirely, said Dr. Keith Manley, Capitol Hill's medical director, "but should we get into it, we can take it in a much more leisurely manner."

Last August, when the two hospitals announced they were beginning formal talks, Capitol Hill was less than 75 percent full and had lost more than $750,000 since January.

"Drowning men don't complain if the rope that's thrown to them isn't pure manila," said Manley, of the atmosphere in which the merger talks began last summer.

Since the unexpected bankruptcy and closing of Doctors Hospital last month, however, Capitol Hill's occurancy rate has jumped to about 95 percent -- the point at which most hospitals consider themselves full.

According to Manley, 75 physicians who had been able to admit patients to Doctors have been granted such privileges at Capitol Hill, and those doctors' patients have accounted for most of Capitol Hill's increased business.

Although the merger talks have been suspended for at least 90 days, officials of both Capitol Hill and considering sharing certain equipment and facilities.

Capitol Hill has its own laundry, while Greater Southeast does not, and the two hospitals could presumably save money by doing their wash together.

But unlike Capitol Hill, Greater Southeast has a CAT scanner, a highly sophisticated piece of X-ray equipment that circles the patient's body to take a series of density measurements and then, through the use of a computer, translates those measurements into very clear pictures of the patient's internal organs.

If the two facilities hared the scanner -- which can cost between $500,000 and $1 million -- Capitol Hill would not have to buy one of Southeast would make its unit more profitable.

Capitol Hill has made a number of improvements since early this year, when it received unfavorable publicity because of the unrelated deaths of three patients whose treatment in its emergency room was later questioned by city officials.

The emergency room, which had been staffed by part-time doctors, has been turned over to a group of doctors who run hospital emergency rooms in several states on a contract basis.

At the same time, Dr. Rene Gelber, director of the surgical intensive care unit at the University of Maryland Hospital in Baltimore, has been hired to direct Capitol Hill's intensive care unit.

The hospital also is negotiating with an outside firm to improve and run its clinical laboratory, and is considering taking over the residency program in ophthalmology -- diseases of the eye -- which had been based at Doctors Hospital.

The 110,000-member Group Health Association, which was the largest single user of Doctor, has had discussions with Capitol Hill, Manley said, but has not yet decided whether to use the hospital.

"It would be nice to have a mutually beneficial relationship" with Group Health, Manley said, "but the last thing I need right now are any new people wanting to come here."