Minnesota hospitals and unionized nurses have called a temporary truce in their battle over mandating staff levels for bedside nurses.

The two sides agreed to a compromise Friday that would shelve, for now, a contentious proposal in the Legislature to force hospitals to meet strict guidelines for nurse staffing.

Instead, the tentative agreement calls on the Minnesota Department of Health to conduct a study of the “correlation between nurse staffing levels and patient outcomes.” It also would require Minnesota hospitals, for the first time, to publicly disclose their staffing levels for nurses, nursing aides and other health workers on hospital units.

“This has been a very contentious issue,” said Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, chair of the House Health Policy Committee, which voted to approve the compromise Friday. “Neither side believes that this is a final resolution,” she added, “but we’re going in the right direction.”

The Minnesota Nurses Association has been pushing the Legislature to mandate nurse staffing rules, saying they’re needed to protect patient safety. But the idea has been vigorously opposed by the Minnesota Hospital Association, which called it a costly and needless push for nursing quotas. The nurses union also tried, and failed, to achieve mandatory staffing ratios in labor negotiations in 2010, which led to a one-day strike.

The surprise agreement was announced just as Liebling’s committee was about to hold a hearing on the original proposal.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, joked: “There will be white smoke going up.”

Details of the Health Department study are still to be worked out. But both sides expressed confidence that, if done properly, it would support their positions. “We still believe that patients are at risk,” said Bernadine Engeldorf, first vice president of the union. “We believe this study at least will address the issues.”

Lawrence Massa, president and CEO of the hospital association, cautioned that the “devil is in the details.” But, he added, “the study is something we can work with.”

The proposal is scheduled to go before a Senate committee next week.