An elderly patient was sexually assaulted in her Howard University Hospital room last week and a 24-year-old Northwest Washington man has been arrested and charged in the attack, D.C. police and hospital officials said yesterday.

Hospital administrator Terrence White said the assault occurred between 11 p.m. Wednesday and 1 a.m. Thursday while the woman was alone in her semiprivate room. The woman's attacker, who apparently entered the hospital earlier that evening during regular visiting hours, "was scared away when a nurse came in with medication" for the patient, White said.

The nurse alerted the hospital's security personnel, who seized a man outside the hospital a short time later.

Police said Anthony Young, 24, of 2724 11th St. NW, was arrested about 12:45 a.m. Thursday and charged with assault with intent to rape. Hospital administrator White said Young has no association with the facility.

"This was a very unfortunate event," said White. "The patient has been moved from the room and is comfortable in another part of the hospital. She has suffered an emotional trauma. We have talked with her son and he was sensitized to the problem and is concerned."

As a result of the attack, which White described as "highly unusual," the hospital has instituted stricter security procedures.

"We have sensitized our security staff to look out for anyone who looks suspicious," said White. "Visitors to the hospital carry passes, and our security force will be checking those passes.

"We don't want a gestapo situation here, but suspicious people will be stopped. All individuals on our staff are now aware to look out for strangers."

In last week's incident, White said, "[The attacker] came in during regular visiting hours and roamed about the hospital after visiting hours" ended at 10 p.m.

There is an announcement over the hospital's public address system each night that visiting hours are ending and that visitors should leave, according to White.

"We have a 550-bed hospital, and that means there is a lot of space a person could be in," he said. "Nurses are supposed to cover their units to see that visitors have departed, but it is an informal procedure."

White pointed out that because the Howard is a training hospital, there are students, who are about the same age as the alleged attacker, in the hospital on a regular basis. "It is hard to tell the difference between students and other young men of the same age," said White.

"We are a good hospital," White said. "We are the hospital that takes in the street people and the people without any insurance. We open our doors to anyone who needs help. Other hospitals don't do that."