A novel plan to help a District woman with AIDS establish an independent life outside D.C. General Hospital ran into unexpected difficulty when hospital workers failed to take her from her new home to outpatient therapy.

Gloria Smith, the first resident of the nation's first home for women with AIDS, which opened Monday in Northwest Washington, was scheduled to return to D.C. General Tuesday morning for physical therapy aboard a van operated by the hospital. But drivers refused to transport Smith, citing fears of contracting AIDS, according to several hospital employes.

High-level hospital officials denied yesterday that workers had balked at taking Smith, 37, and attributed the problem to confusion about her address. They said Smith would be picked up this morning for therapy by drivers who have been ordered not to wear gloves or masks.

"This lady will be treated like any of the 60 to 80 other patients we pick up," said Sherman McCoy, the hospital's deputy executive director.

Officials had hoped that Smith, who had spent a year in D.C. General, would be able to function outside the hospital after she moved into the home for women with AIDS. Once acute infection has been treated, most acquired immune deficiency syndrome patients do not require the expensive technology and restrictive environment of a hospital and fare better in a home-like setting.

In Smith's case, that required the cooperation of D.C. General, the city's public hospital, which had agreed to take her to the twice-weekly physical therapy sessions she requires to continue walking. The AIDS virus has damaged Smith's central nervous system and she walks haltingly with a cane.

That cooperation apparently broke down Tuesday when drivers did not show up to pick up Smith, who had awakened at 6 a.m. to be ready for the van, which was scheduled to arrive between 7 and 9.

Lou Tesconi, the director of Damien Ministries, which operates the house in which Smith lives, said he called the hospital when drivers failed to arrive. He said he was told that the hospital's transportation department workers did not come because they lacked masks and gloves.

Tesconi said he was told that drivers would pick her up today as scheduled and might wear protective garb, which scientists have repeatedly stated is unnecessary because AIDS is not transmitted casually, but only through blood and semen. Federal health officials recommend that workers who handle blood or other body fluids wear gloves or other protective gear.

"I said that was absolutely unacceptable," said Tesconi. After a conversation yesterday with Effie Campbell, a secretary in the physical therapy department who also had told him they might wear protective garb, Tesconi telephoned city public health officials.

Campbell said that Tuesday, after Smith failed to keep her appointment, she received a call from Clarence Bennett, a transportation department foreman. According to Campbell, Bennett said Smith had not been picked up because there was concern about her riding in the van with other patients and because his workers didn't have masks or gloves. Bennett told her he had asked city public health officials whether such precautions were necessary, Campbell said.

"I was pretty fired up about the way they were acting," said Campbell. "I said, 'We're okay, we see her all the time down here. I don't know what you're worried about.' " Campbell said she was concerned that Smith "was trying so hard to get her life together and I was worried that this would be a big setback for her."

Bennett said yesterday that he had called the D.C. Fire Department last week for information about transporting AIDS patients and was referred to health authorities. He said that the reason Smith was not picked up was because of uncertainty about her address, not concern about her condition.

"By the time we figured it out {her address} it was too late to pick her up," he said.

W.L. Scott, chief of the transportation department, sought to lay the matter to rest. "I wouldn't put it past one of my drivers to have said that," he said, "but I will be on top of it and there won't be any masks or gloves."