The full-page color ads are running in the editions of House Beautiful, Metropolitan Home and Better Homes and Gardens that are read by Washington area subscribers.

Some feature Loretta Swit, who starred on the television series "M*A*S*H." Others, seen in Time, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report feature a building alive with activity while the outside world slumbers.

The ads are part of a $285,000 publicity campaign by Greater Southeast Community Hospital designed to improve employe morale and encourage wealthier, private-pay patients to use the hospital.

"Everyone considers this is a black institution, a ghetto hospital," said Dr. James Levy, who since September has been president of the modern, 450-bed hospital. "They have a misconception."

Opened as the Cafritz Memorial Hospital in 1966, the institution sits on federally donated land just across the line from Prince George's County. For years, the hospital has competed with nearby Southern Maryland Hospital for private-pay patients from suburban Maryland.

A decade ago, the hospital was sued by neighbors who protested that wealthier suburbanites were treated in greater numbers than residents of the Southeast area. But the court ruled that the amount of the hospital's free care was "substantial" and the hospital's figures show that about the same amount of charity care--8 percent--is provided today.

Levy said the campaign "gives the message that we're a quality provider" to readers far outside the low-income neighborhoods surrounding the private, nonprofit hospital. "It's hard to get to the middle-class," Levy said. "People don't drive by Greater Southeast on their way to anywhere. . . . People in our service area know that these magazines go into Northwest and that makes them feel good."

The image-building is necessary, he explained, for the hospital to keep providing 8 percent of its care to charity patients.

"This ad campaign is supposed to maintain a base of paying patients," he said. "We want to pull in all the paying people we can. We'll pull them in from Rockville or Northern Virginia. It's the only way we can keep doing care for the poor."

The hospital's 7-month-old "marketing and image" campaign had its roots in a splashy series of ads involving nurse recruitment that ran in 1982. The ads, appearing in local editions of several national magazines, spoofed the hard-sell tactics used by hospitals anxious to find nurses and included a take-off of a Cosmopolitan magazine cover.

"Our ads were completely controversial in the nurse-recruitment field," said Stacey Fortson, the hospital's marketing director, who helped conceive the ads with an Atlanta advertising agency. She said many nurses thanked the hospital for lampooning hiring practices that emphasized fringe benefits over professional traits.

Greater Southeast has continued to run recruiting ads this year, although the recession has relieved the traditional shortage of nurses. The hospital now has 15 vacancies among its nursing staff of 559.

The magazine ads, coupled with radio spots, stand out in the Washington area, where most hospitals either don't advertise or use health education newsletters to promote good will and win patients.

"We want people to know we're here, we're good and we've done some class advertising," said Levy, adding that one result of the ads is to stir pride among the hospital's 1,700 employes. "Five years ago, people were embarrassed to say they worked at Greater Southeast."

The visit of actress Swit to the hospital last September, when she was photographed and taped for endorsements, resulted in good will throughout the hospital, said Fortson.

The hospital intends to keep the image-building ads running. The 1984 campaign will focus on a new 24-bed unit, to be opened next week, that will allow relatives of patients to sleep near them on rollaway cots in their semiprivate rooms.

A mass mailing to residents of the immediate area also is planned for the fall. "We expect all hospitals in this area to get into hospital marketing," said Fortson. "We're just the first."