Hospital representatives and elected officials speaking at the first in a series of hearings on plans to reduce the number of hospital beds in Maryland said last night that the state should reevaluate some of the methods it has proposed to eliminate 5,126 of the state's 15,600 hospital beds by 1988.

The session in Upper Marlboro was sponsored by the Maryland Health Resources Planning Commission, the governmental body that is responsible for coming up with a plan to bring Maryland's hospital industry into line with health-cost containment legislation passed this year by the General Assembly.

State Sen. B.W. Mike Donovan (D-Prince George's) was one of several speakers who criticized an earlier commission effort -- a study released by a consulting firm last July that recommended closing or merging 14 hospitals, including five in the Washington area.

"I'm pleased tonight that we've taken another look at this thing," Donovan said, noting an almost uniformly negative public reaction to the report.

The second look proposed by the commission provides for more complicated but less drastic methods of achieving the bed reduction, placing a short-term emphasis on voluntary compliance and a long-term emphasis on cuts based on which hospitals operate most efficiently.

"Closure should be voluntary," the commission's executive director, James R. Stanton, told about 50 people in attendance. "But if the system is going to downsize, something somewhere is going to close."

Under the proposed regulations, the commission would determine which hospitals have excess beds and set goals for reductions. Compliance with those goals, the commission said, would exempt hospitals from certain criteria for the certificates of need that hospitals must get in order to expand.

Representatives from Leland Memorial Hospital in Riverdale questioned the method the commission used to determine the number of excess beds.

"The plan seems to take a rather mechanical approach to something we think is only partially quantifiable," said Leland President Charley Eldridge. "It seems to be based entirely on numbers."

The Maryland Hospital Association also criticized parts of the commission's plan and has provided an alternative proposal that would base required bed reductions on current average daily occupancy instead of incentive-laden voluntary methods.

The hearings will continue tonight at 7 p.m. at Allegany Community College in Cumberland and conclude next Wednesday at 7 p.m. in the Council Office Building's third-floor hearing room in Rockville.