Greater Southeast Community Hospital closed its emergency trauma center yesterday because some of its specialty surgeons -- spurred by increased liability risks -- have resigned and because other factors made it impossible for the hospital to conform to District requirements.

Thomas W. Chapman, the hospital president, said shutting the trauma center, which was part of the hospital's emergency services and was operating on a provisional basis for the past year, will not affect care in the hospital and its emergency room for nontrauma patients. He said that the closing of the trauma center was performed in concert with the D.C. Commission of Public Health.

The hospital on Southern Avenue in Anacostia serves a high number of indigent patients, most of whom do not have medical insurance.

"We are very committed and intent {upon} providing as much care as possibly we can, but like every other private enterprise we can't do that indefinitely without limits," Chapman said. "More importantly, we can't do it unless we have the appropriate range of specialists participating in it."

Dr. Kenneth Larsen, director of the Department of Emergency Medicine at the hospital, said about nine categories of subspecialists -- including plastic surgeons, neurosurgeons and hand specialists -- must be on call for the trauma center to function. He said the resignations of the center's two neurosurgeons and two plastic surgeons became effective yesterday.

"They got loaded up," Larsen said of the doctors who resigned. "You can imagine being on call every other night for a year . . . . It gets pretty old. And the neurosurgeons found themselves paying outrageous amounts in payments for malpractice insurance." He estimated such payments at more than $80,000 yearly.

Of the 50,000 annual visits to the hospital, about 300 patients are trauma victims. Larsen said the change will not affect the quality of care at Southeast.

Trauma victims will still, if necessary, be treated there but then will be "stabilized" and transferred to what are referred to as level one trauma centers, such as D.C. General Hospital, Washington Hospital Center or Howard University Hospital. Greater Southeast Community had a level two trauma designation.

"If someone gets shot around the corner and walks into the emergency room, they're still going to be treated," he said. But Larsen said that ultimately such a patient's "needs are probably best met elsewhere."

Dr. Reed V. Tuckson, D.C. commissioner of public health, said his staff was meeting with the D.C. Fire Department yesterday to work out projections of the number of trauma patients who likely would have been treated at Southeast and how best to distribute those patients to other trauma centers.

Tuckson said the closing of the trauma center was prompted by Southeast's concern that it could not guarantee that subspecialists would arrive in the hospital within the 30 minutes required for a trauma center. But, he said, "the problem now is that their physician staff is saying 'not only do we have the transit problem, we also have some issues of uncompensated care to deal with' " as well as liability risks.

Tuckson said that the problems that led to the closing of the trauma center at Southeast -- as well as the larger systemwide problems -- signal that "the public sector will have to bear an increased cost for rendering health care to citizens of this city."