D.C. General Hospital was forced to close part of its emergency room to new patients early yesterday because of a shortage of nurses and other personnel.

At the request of the hospital's emergency care director, Dr. Marvin Barnard, ambulances carrying patients with routine medical problems were not accepted between 1:30 and 6 a.m.

But while those patients were routed to other hospitals, Barnard said, D.C. General was "still receiving major trauma patients and still receiving ambulatory patients." Patients brought in from D.C. Jail and St. Elizabeths Hospital were seen as were those brought to the hospital by D.C. police.

D.C. General's executive director, John Dandridge Jr., speaking yesterday at a D.C. Council hearing on the city's residency requirement, said: "We had to shut down the emergency room last night because we didn't have beds on line to care for the patients because we don't have the nursing staffs."

The hospital is seeking a residency exemption for about half of its 2,300 workers, Dandridge said. He added that pay and the residency requirement particularly affect the nurses, 43 percent of whom are not D.C. residents.

The council hearing was also told that half of the hospital's 461 beds have been empty for the two weeks because of the staffing shortage and that the pharmacy has stopped filling outpatient Medicaid prescriptions.

Dr. Reed V. Tuckson, the District's commissioner of public health, said he authorized Barnard's request to close part of the emergency room after checking to make sure beds were available at other hospitals and the move wouldn't burden the D.C. Fire Department's ambulance division.

"It seemed to be the wisest move last night," Tuckson said. "We don't ordinarily want to close emergency rooms {but} they were very concerned that they were running into critical problems."

He said that because emergency rooms at three other city hospitals were able, if necessary, to accept ambulances with nontrauma patients, the overriding issue was "that D.C. General has to maintain the ability to manage major trauma patients" because it is the closest major trauma center to areas of Southeast Washington, especially those east of the Anacostia River.

A provisional second-level trauma center at Greater Southeast Community Hospital on Southern Avenue SE ceased operation Oct. 1 because of difficulties in meeting staffing requirements for specialty surgeons and other reasons. Tuckson said it is still not "fully" known how the closing of that trauma center will affect the overall emergency care system.