District officials say they will need an additional 500 to 600 employes, including 100 registered nurses, to help the city's new Commission on Mental Health Services when it takes over St. Elizabeths Hospital tomorrow and begins shifting the burden of care to community mental health centers.

But finding and hiring the employes -- nurses, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, dietitians and security guards, among others -- won't be easy, officials say.

"The problem is that everybody is looking for the same people," said Jo Ann McGeorge, who is working with the city's Mental Health Reorganization Office on personnel issues related to the commission's transition phase.

The city has long had an aggressive recruiting program for nurses, who are in critically short supply throughout the nation. Beginning tomorrow, when the D.C. government officially assumes control of the 132-year-old federal hospital and most of its 3,100 employes, the commission still will be scrambling to employ other professional and blue-collar workers.

"We expect 500 to 600 vacancies on Thursday as we enter our new life, and we will be engaged in a vigorous hiring effort," said Michael English, the commission's chief administrative officer-designate. He said that in addition to nurses, the next most critical area of hiring is psychologists.

Under the consolidation plan, the city offered jobs to the St. Elizabeths staff, most of whom will be reassigned eventually to community mental health centers. More than 97 percent of the hospital's employes opted to stay with the new system and become District workers, according to English.

"I think {Commissioner Robert A. Washington} and his management have created a positive view of the commission, and people are willing to take a chance," said English. "Also, these people are committed to helping the patients."

More than a few accommodations were made, however, to help encourage people to stay.

St. Elizabeths psychiatrists, for example, will retain -- for two years only -- the annual bonus of $10,000 they received under the hospital's federal management. Exclusive of the bonus, psychiatrists at the fully experienced level of DS 15 are paid about $65,000 a year.

The District has waived its residency requirement for all current hospital employes.

To help fill the most critical vacancies, the commission's parent agency, the Department of Human Services, has asked the D.C. Council to grant a similar residency waiver for newly hired psychiatrists and nurses.

English said the bulk of the anticipated new employes will be for the commission's Child and Youth Services division, which has been a relatively tiny operation but is set to expand programs under the reorganized health care system.

Many of the division's programs will be new, according to officials, and the commission already has put the word out that it is looking for about 375 employes, especially child psychiatrists, child psychologists, psychiatric nurses and recreation and musical therapists.

Fully experienced psychologists are paid up to $53,000 a year working for the District, slightly below the norm elsewhere in the region, according to English. Social workers are paid up to about $31,000, while registered nurses are paid up to $25,000 a year. Mid-level pay for blue-collar workers will be $15,000 to $20,000, English said.