CHICAGO — The Minnesota Nurses Association and 14 hospitals in the Twin Cities area reached an agreement late last week on a new contract, averting a threatened strike by 12,000 nurses that was set to start this week.

Moody’s Investors Service warned last week that a prolonged walkout could pressure some ratings if increased costs for temporary nurses and lower patient revenue hurt already-thin operating margins.

The contract issues under dispute involved wages, benefits, and nurse-to-patient staffing ratios, with the nurses’ union pushing for fixed staffing ratios and the hospitals pressing for flexibility to control costs. The nurses prevailed in their demands involving pensions and health care.

The hospitals and nurses compromised on pay raises and the hospitals prevailed on the issue of patient-staff ratios, retaining the flexibility to make adjustments.

“The Minnesota Nurses Association and the hospitals have agreed to a renewed commitment to working through both parties’ staffing issues through the existing committee systems at the various hospitals,” a joint statement said.

The contract may ease near-term pressures, but Moody’s had also warned in its report that over the long term, the region’s hospitals face challenges in maintaining their current levels of fiscal performance due to pressure from health care reform and inflexible labor costs.

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