It was incorrectly reported yesterday that Patricia Roberts Harris, a candidate for mayor of the District, is opposed to the operation of St. Elizabeths Hospital by a joint commission of federal and city appointees. Harris favors such a plan.

Mayor Marion Barry and former Carter Cabinet secretary Patricia Roberts Harris were on the same side yesterday arguing against other major Democratic candidates for mayor who said that Washington should have a separate Department of Health.

Candidates Charlene Drew Jarvis, Betty Ann Kane and John Ray, all members of the D.C. City Council, contended that the city could improve its health care services to the poor if there were a separate department.

"This issue separates the candidates as no other issue, not housing, not transportation, not crime," said Jarvis (D-Ward 4),who has made health a major issue in her campaign.

"I stand here as an advocate for those people whose lives and the lives of their families depend on the involvement of mental health experts," she told an audience of about 100 persons at the forum sponsored by the D.C. Mental Health Association and held at Howard University.

"We don't need a separate department," said Harris, a former secretary of Health and Human Services. "What we need is a top official who understands health issues as well as welfare issues."

Barry's current opposition to a separate health department for the city is somewhat ironic because as a candidate in 1978 he supported the concept. After he took office, he appointed a group to study the then Department of Human Resources and decided to reorganize it but not create a separate department of health.

The candidates also squared off on another important health issue in the city--St. Elizabeths Hospital, the federally run mental hospital in Southeast Washington.

Harris, Jarvis and Ray said they opposed a plan supported by Barry that would turn the hospital over to a quasipublic corporation appointed jointly by the U.S. and D.C. governments.

"If the federal government wants to close St. Elizabeths, of course we should take it over," said Ray (D-At Large). "This city has too many commissions now . . . What we need is leadership that says straight out that we are going to take care of our people. We need leadership."

The federal Office of Management and Budget proposed late last year that the city assume full financial responsibility, about $128 million, for the hospital for fiscal year 1983.

The city currently contributes only $23 million to the hospital's budget, although 90 percent of the inpatients at the facility are D.C. residents. Under the quasipublic proposal, which Barry supports, the federal government would provide about 80 percent of the hospital's funds, and the city would pay the rest.

Kane said she could support St. Elizabeths' being run by a quasipublic board, but she said that board should be selected entirely by city officials, like the board that currently runs D.C. General Hospital.

Meanwhile Democratic candidate Dennis Sobin, publisher of Met Personals, a sexually oriented newspaper, said the city's current mental health problem is the use of hard drugs and called the city's handling of the problem "totally sadistic."

"The morals division is our outreach program," he said. "They lie and trap people abusing drugs then incarcerate them and deny them the treatment they need."

Physician Morris Harper, another Democrat, criticized Harris for suggesting that the city could increase its budget for mental health programs by using housing funds to create more half-way houses for mental patients.

"It's not so simple," he said. "We need to set aside funds for mental health . . . to bring groups in the city together to meet the problem."

The two Republicans at the forum, James E. Champagne and E. Brooke Lee, both said that improved health services are a question of how much money the city can find to fund programs.

"Ronald Reagan realizes the District has special needs," Lee said. ". . . Reagan will find it easier to help through your next Republican mayor."

Champagne said there was no need for an increase in spending.

"The District has a $2 billion budget with $12 million allocated for mental health," he said. "We don't need more increases. We need to improve a woefully inadequate program for dealing with the problems of mental health."